Of late, it seems like Facebook can’t catch a break. It was only yesterday that its controversial Free Basics project (formerly internet.org) was banned in India by the country’s telecom regulator, TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India), as the venture was adjudged to have been in violation of the basic tenets of Net Neutrality. With its free internet project banned in the very country it was primarily aimed at, Facebook has now seemingly suffered yet another blow. This time around, it is France, which doesn’t seem too enamored with the world’s largest online social network and its business practices, which includes collecting an extraordinary amount of personal data.
According to Bloomberg Business, France’s data protection regulator, CNIL (Commission Nationale Informatique et Libertés), has now ruled that the social network will no longer be permitted to track people who do not have a registered Facebook account. The action comes in the wake of complaints against the company from privacy advocates in the country – and indeed, across Europe – who claimed that the social network was sending data back to its US servers for data mining and value rendition. The problem is, the social network stands accused of doing this not just to members who willfully submit information about themselves to the website, but also privacy-aware non-members, who have stayed away from the site often precisely because of its data-mining activities.
According to the CNIL, Facebook using personal data to deliver targeted ads is an invasive, unwarranted and unacceptable behavior, as it violates an individual’s right to privacy. What infuriates privacy advocates even further, is that the website and its mobile apps don’t even allow users an option to opt out of its data collection activities. Europe, of course, has some of the strictest privacy laws on the planet, which has resulted in some controversial legislations like the ‘Right to be Forgotten’ ruling, which continues to be an area of controversy between European lawmakers and advocates of an open and unfettered internet. Meanwhile, this latest ruling is a result of privacy watchdogs from 28 EU countries, including France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Germany, coming together to investigate the charges against the company.
Meanwhile, the Belgian privacy watchdog had already come out with pretty much the same ruling last November, so the French setback isn’t exactly a bolt from the blue for Facebook. The company, however, protested its innocence, and said that it will appeal the ruling in a court of law. According to the company’s spokeswoman, Ms. Sally Aldous, “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”.