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Facebook privacy policy in breach of european directives

by Josef Kafka

Facebook has come under fire in recent weeks regarding its security and privacy policies, and a new report commissioned by the Centre of Interdisciplinary Law and ICT at the University of Leuven in Belgium now claims that despite making significant changes to its privacy policies in the wake of recent criticism, Facebook is still in breach of European Law. They argue that the reforms undertaken by Facebook only expand older sections of the privacy policy and fail to take into account the points that had been made recently, which means that the social network is still violating European consumer protection law. The authors of the report conducted an extensive analysis of Facebook's privacy policy to determine whether its newest updates had brought it into line with the current European regulations regarding consumer protection, privacy and security. They stated that the website's current policies do not "comply with the Unfair Contract Terms Directive", and that these failures existed as far as back as 2013, and still continue to exist today.

Essentially, Facebook fails to comply with regulations regarding to profiling for third party advertising firms, as its privacy terms do not meet the "requirements for legally valid consent" of its users. In addition, it also fails to offer its users "adequate control mechanisms", regarding how their content could then be sold to and used by third party advertising corporations. This means that under the current terms, your images, videos, text and other content could be acquired by third parties, and then used to sell their products to consumers unless you opt out of these terms, a process which the report claims Facebook makes too difficult for its users. They said that it is "problematic" that default privacy settings automatically opt users in to these profiling schemes, and that this breach laws regarding consumer consent and protection. Additionally, the report also took aim at Facebook's collecting of location information. In the current Facebook mobile application there is no way to turn off the process by which it collects and uses your location data, and other information stored on your phone or tablet. The only way to get around this feature is by turning off location services on the mobile device directly, something which the authors of the report deemed unacceptable. They said that under the current privacy terms users are not offered a choice with regard to "their appearance in “sponsored stories” or the sharing of location data" with third parties, and that this must be changed to bring the policy into compliance with European law. Specifically, these issues violate the European "e-Privacy Directive" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Directive_on_Privacy_and_Electronic_Communications). Under Article 5 (3), it states that websites must obtain "free and informed consent" from their users before accessing or storing any information acquired from their device. It was this article that saw the introduction of 'cookie warnings' on websites, which needed consent before storing information about any specific user. 

Despite this report, Facebook continues to maintain that its privacy policies do not breach Belgian laws regarding surveillance, data collection and internet privacy, and that its new privacy policy had been made more "clear and precise" in wake of the recent changes made to it. However, the website is already under investigation by the Article 29 Working Party, which was set up under Directive 95/46/EC to protect the privacy of citizens across Europe, and is made up of delegates from a number of different European countries. The Dutch data protection authority are also continuing their investigation into the legality of the privacy policy in Holland.

You can see the report in more detail at the following link: www.law.kuleuven.be/icri/en/news/item/icri-cir-advises-belgian-privacy-commission-in-facebook-investigation

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