European Internet users urged to protect themselves against Facebook tracking

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In the wake of the revelations about Facebook’s tracking of users who do not own a Facebook account, the Belgian Privacy Commission has issued a set of recommendations for both Facebook, website owners and end users.

The recommendations are based on the results of an extensive analysis of Facebook’s revised policies and terms (rolled out on January 30, 2015) conducted by the inter-university research center EMSOC/SPION, which concluded that the company is acting in violation of European law.

According to them Facebook places too much burden on its users to protect their privacy, and then doesn’t offer simple tools and settings to do so, and sets up some problematic default settings. They also don’t provide adequate information for users to make informed choices.

Finally, the company tracks users who are logged-out from Facebook through the social plug-ins (“Like” and “Share” buttons), tracks opted-out Facebook users with a cookie for advertising purposes, tracks users who are not Facebook users but who have visited Facebook’s pages, and so on.

The Belgian Privacy Commission requests, among other things, that Facebook provide full transparency about the use of cookies, and to refrain from systematically placing long-life and unique identifier cookies with non-users of Facebook, as well as from collecting and using data by means of social plug-ins (unless they obtain the users’ consent).

Users who wish to protect themselves against tracking by Facebook through social plug-ins are advised to use browser add-ons that block tracking – EFF’s Privacy Badger, Ghostery, or Disconnect – and to use the incognito or “private navigation” mode in their browser of choice.

Facebook’s tracking decisions do not only impact Facebook users but all Internet users, they noted.

“Up to this day Facebook refuses to recognize the application of Belgian legislation nor the Belgian Privacy Commission. Until now it has always contested the findings of the EMSOC/SPION research report, but it has not provided concrete facts repudiating them. To the contrary: Facebook recognizes that errors, ‘BUGS’ have been uncovered.”

Facebook maintains that, as regards the privacy of European citizens, it only needs to conform to Irish law, as its European center is based in Dublin.