Facebook closes content to Belgian users without accounts

Summary

Privacy secretary Bart Tommelein has referred to as “blackmail” Facebook’s decision to limit access to the site in Belgium in response to a recent court decision

“No privacy, no freedom”

Social network site Facebook has closed access to its pages to anyone in Belgium without a Facebook profile. The move is the American company’s response to a court decision last month on protection of information and was immediately condemned by the privacy commission and by federal privacy secretary Bart Tommelein.

Last month Facebook lost a court action on data protection in Belgium and was ordered to stop tracking the internet movements of people who are not members of the network and who have, therefore, never given permission to be tracked. The company said that the tracking – triggered whenever any webpage is visited that includes a link to Facebook – was for security reasons, but the court rejected that argument.

Now Facebook has decided to deny access to non-members in Belgium. The move affects not only the profiles of ordinary members but also pages set up by organisations, businesses and public figures. More and more, campaigners, fundraisers and charities use Facebook pages instead of dedicated websites. Those will all be closed now to anyone not signed up to Facebook.

“They’re a major player, and the impact of their decision is major, but we are not giving in to blackmail,” said Tommelein. “Everyone has to abide by the privacy laws. Without privacy, there can be no freedom.”

Tommelein also expressed the hope that Facebook would continue discussions with the privacy commission and that the latest measure would only be temporary.