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The Belgian BPC have opened their case against Facebook. The case was filed  since the 15th of June this year. In what is seen as a landmark case for the social networking site, the case is keenly watched by others involved in Facebook’s business model.

facebook in Belgian court

It all started back in March this year when Belgium’s national privacy watchdog, the Belgian Privacy commission (BPC), sponsored a research to investigate how Facebook is addressing the concerns of Belgians into how it uses it terms of service. Basically, the research was to determine if Facebook is abusing users private info to sell adverts to companies and individuals interested in online adverts. The report from the research found out that even though Facebook has updated its terms of service and data policy, the modification gave Facebook too much control over users personal data and how these data are shared with third parties (mainly advertisers).

Facebook denied all the charges. But it would be hard for Facebook to go scot free in the face of the massive revamp it did on its online advertising business (Facebook Dynamic Product ads) which meant you don’t have to own a Facebook account to be targetted by Facebook’s cookie policy.The bigger and specific concern is that Facebook is using its large online presence for profit. Recently Facebook announced that its chat app, Facebook Messenger now has over 700 million active users and still growing while over 1.1 billion users logged into Facebook in one day.

facebook in Belgian Court
                                                                photograph: Adams Berry/theguardian.com

In their opening argument in the case, counsel to the BPC did not pull any punches. He likened Facebook to the US National Security Agency (NSA). This is in reference to the notorious Edward Snowden case, a former analyst in the CIA who leaked copious secret files about how the NSA was spying on people worldwide.

Hear Frederic Debuserre, slamming Facebook,
‘When it became known that the NSA was spying on people all around the world, everybody was upset. This actor ( referring to Facebook) is doing the same thing, albeit in a different way. ‘

If the BPC wins the case, it plans to impose a fine of a little over $280,000 a day if Facebook refused to address their demands in a satisfactory manner. In a very small nutshell, these are the demands from the BPC,
1.change your cookies’ policy
2.stop sending data of Belgians to advertisers
3.stop collecting data of Belgians who don’t have a Facebook account

Facebook on its part, while strenuously distancing itself from any wrong-doing, says that they have addressed all the concerns of the of the BPC since March when the result of the research was made available to them. Facebook is also insisting the Belgians have no jurisdiction over them because their (that is Facebook) European operations are based in Ireland. And the Irish data protection agency has being doing a fantastic job of auditing the operations of Facebook vis-a-vis protection of users’ privacy among others.

How could Facebook be subject to Belgian law if the management of data gathering is being done by Facebook Ireland and its 900 employees in that country?’ Facebook’s representative, Paul Lefebvre, asks rhetorically.

Also Facebook is saying that what the BPC is asking cannot be implemented only in Belgium. But Debuserre and BPC are not buying into it, insisting their demands can be implemented in Belgium only. But other countries are watching this closely. They all see an opportunity here. If the BPC achieves any sort of victory, the wider implication for Facebook is very clear; they must implement the same set of standards across all EU countries.

Interesting times ahead for Facebook I must say.

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