Belgian regulator says Facebook 'tramples' over privacy laws

Belgium's data protection watchdog says Facebook "tramples" over European privacy laws.

Willem Debeuckelaere, president of the Belgian Privacy Commission, which is trying to gain jurisdiction over the social network, said Facebook would have to change its data protection rules and stop tracking users across the web without their explicit consent.

Belgian regulators said the country's law applied to Facebook because it had a small office there. "The way in which . . . internet users' privacy is denied calls for [new] measures," said Mr Debeuckelaere. He also warned Facebook that it must "bend or break".

The criticisms by the data protection authority are the latest attack in the growing jurisdictional war between Europe's national watchdogs over how to regulate companies such as Facebook.

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Nearly all big internet companies - including Facebook - have their European head offices in Ireland, meaning that the Irish authorities are in charge of interpreting and enforcing EU rules on data protection.

This situation has been criticised by other countries, which argue that Ireland is too lenient in the way it handles data protection cases. Belgium has combined with regulators in the Netherlands, Spain, France and Germany to investigate Facebook, despite doubts over their jurisdiction.

The Belgian regulator also accused the social network of being "particularly stingy" in its responses to questions.

Facebook has insisted that it must comply only with Ireland's data protection authorities. A Facebook spokesperson said: "Facebook is already regulated in Europe and complies with European data protection law, so the applicability of the CBPL's efforts are unclear. But we will, of course, review the recommendations when we receive them with our European regulator, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner."

A previous report by Belgian researchers found that people were being tracked by Facebook even when they had not signed up to the social network. Facebook blamed this on a bug, which has since been fixed.

Richard Allan, Facebook's vice-president of public policy, warned in an article for the Financial Times last month that the increasingly fractured enforcement of data protection rules in Europe was at risk of harming business.

Lord Allan wrote: "For internet companies . . . national regulation would pose serious obstacles. Facebook's costs would increase, and people in Europe would notice new features arriving more slowly, or not at all."

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