Facebook has won a long-running legal battle with the Belgian data protection authority over how it tracks non-users.
Originally, the regulator won its case and ordered the social network to stop tracking non-members when they visited publicly available Facebook pages.
The Brussels Appeals Court overturned that, saying the regulator had no jurisdiction over Facebook, which has its European headquarters in Ireland.
Facebook said it was pleased with the decision.
“We look forward to bringing all our services back online for people in Belgium,” it said in a statement.
Willem Debeuckelaere, president of the Belgium privacy commission said: “Today’s decision means simply that the Belgian citizen cannot obtain privacy protection when it concerns foreign players. The citizen is thus exposed to massive violations of privacy.”
It said that it would look into launching a final appeal with the Court of Cassation, which can throw out previous judgements, but not deliver new ones.
The case centres around Facebook’s use of a cookie – a small data file that tracks and records web activity.
Initially the court found in favour of the Belgian data authority. It said that collecting the data on the web-surfing behaviour of millions of people who were not members of the social network was a “manifest” violation of Belgian data protection law, irrespective of what purposes Facebook used the data for.
It imposed a fine of 250,000 euros per day if it did not comply with the order.
In December last year Facebook agreed to remove cookies for non-users who were visiting publicly available Facebook content.
Some privacy experts felt that would open the floodgates for other countries to follow suit.
In its appeal Facebook argued that it had used the cookie – known as datr – for five years, that it helped keep the service secure and that it discarded the data after 10 days.
The ruling though was ultimately about who has authority over the social network.
“Belgian courts don’t have international jurisdiction over Facebook Ireland, where the data concerning Europe is processed,” the court said.
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