France Cracks Down on Facebook’s Data Collection

by Matt Klassen on February 10, 2016

facebookFacebook has been put on notice by France’s data collection authority that things are about to change, and that the social network will no longer be able to mine user data the way it has always done. That means that whatever house of cards Facebook has built in regards to data collection, advertising, and ultimately revenues, it’s about to all come crashing down.

For years companies like Facebook have relied on an international data collection agreement called “Safe Harbour” to avoid all the red tape usually associated with transatlantic data sharing between the European Union and the United States. Last year, amid the growing privacy scandal involving the American intelligence sector, that agreement was ruled illegal and companies were given 3 months to establish alternative legal arrangements for data transfers.

Now that those three months have come and gone, Facebook stands as the largest target who has yet to make these alternative arrangement’s, and its apparent refusal to abide by these rules has prompted France to take the opportunity to stem the tide of data collection, informing the social network that it has three months to stop tracking users online activity without their consent, and to cease sending any data back to the U.S.

“Facebook transfers personal data to the United States on the basis of Safe Harbour, although the Court of Justice of the European Union declared invalid such transfers in its ruling of October 6, 2015,” the French CNIL said in a statement. Simply put, given that the entire framework for data sharing has been deemed illegal, Facebook has no legal right to send information on French users back to its servers in the U.S.

Further, the regulatory body noted that the cookie Facebook places in users’ browsers to track their online habits is illegal according to French privacy law, and thus in order to continue this practice, Facebook would have to be transparent about its actions and explicitly receive user consent before implementing its tried and tested data collection system.

It should be noted that France isn’t the first EU country to take issue with Facebook’s data collection practices, as Belgium regulators took Facebook to court late last year over the social network’s secretive use of cookies to track online traffic. The Belgium court has imposed a temporary injunction against such tracking until more permanent decisions can be made.

For its part, Facebook has noted that its use of cookies are an industry standard, and that it does exactly the same thing has hundreds of other companies who have not been targeted in this way, implying that the company’s size and influence simply make it a convenient target for this data witch hunt. Further, the company has assured its users that privacy (not advertising revenues) is truly central to everything Facebook does.

“Protecting the privacy of the people who use Facebook is at the heart of everything we do. We are confident that we comply with European data-protection law and look forward to engaging with the CNIL to respond to their concerns,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

According to French regulators, if Facebook fails to comply with the order to cease data transfers to the U.S. and in seeking explicit user consent regarding online tracking in the next three months, the social network could face fines.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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