Belgium recently had a court ruling that determined Facebook was going too far in collecting information about visitors to its site who are not Facebook users.
Facebook has said that it will appeal this decision, which it likely considers central to the business model the company uses, whereby they harvest user data and sell it to advertisers, for lack of a better description. Facebook must see it as paramount to fight such rulings at every level, to prevent further regulation on the collection of user data.
For its part, Belgium seems to be interpreting laws in a pretty standard way, not going out of its way to make the determination. The Belgian ruling is not alone among European countries and jurisdictions passing recent rules on how American Internet companies like Facebook are allowed to interact with the data of European citizens. The European Union sees data privacy as a fundamental right, and companies like Facebook and Google, who want to operate there will need to comply with stricter regulation as the situation matures. Ultimately, Facebook and others are going to be more limited in the European Union, which generally has more regulations than the United States in any case.
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Facebook’s practice of collecting data about non-users who visit the site helped it better understand what kinds of users were looking for different kinds of information on the website. This could become useful for advertising and monetization purposes, or it could just feed into the nexus of Facebook’s data collection project. In either case, the company will want to keep it intact, and has said that it will be fighting the decision as hard as necessary.
However, failing to comply with the decision could bring fines of up to $270,000 per day, which would make it seem the free service needs to get the whole thing worked out pretty fast. Then again, Facebook has a market capitalization of 301 billion dollars, so it could last a while under such conditions.
Whether or not companies collect data should become less of an issue as the absence of data collection becomes more of a selling point. More educated users are coming online all the time, not wanting to participate in services which make them the product. Such customers will find a critical lack of non-invasive services currently available, but in the future, it’s easy to see that companies will have a serious incentive to create services which don’t collect data.
Presently, it would seem that Facebook makes more from its users browsing than it could through charging them. After all, how many people worldwide would continue to use social media if it were all behind a pay wall? Generally, such services are only paid for when they have to do with dating or something of that nature. Internet users of the past decade and prior have come to expect most things online to be free. Highly niche markets are able to create paid areas, but these are rare and, more importantly, the information behind the wall can be critical to business decisions.
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