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IntoTheMinds consulting blog
Advice in Data & IT

Facebook case: towards more Big Data transparency ?

No later than Monday we were announcing the next Big Data revolution : algorithms will become more transparent in the future. We argued consumers will become increasingly aware of how sensitive their data is, eventually demanding information on how it is used and Big Data transparency.

On Monday evening (08 Feb 2016) the French data protection authority (CNIL) together with the fraud authorities (DGCCRF) confirmed that trend. They listed a series of infringements and demanded that Facebook comply with their requirements within 90 and 60 days respectively.

What is reproached to Facebook ?

The CNIL and DGCCRF have prepared a  long list of infringements under the French Data Protection Act. The most noticeable in light of our previous article are the following :

  • Facebook retrieves data on sexual, political  and religious orientations of users without prior consent
  • Users’ online activities are used to infer users’ profiles and send them targeted advertising. Facebook provides no tool to control which data is processed and how it is processed. It therefore remains a black box (both for users and for advertisers by the way).

Here’s the full list of infringements published by the CNIL on its website :

  • FACEBOOK collects, without prior information, data concerning the browsing activity of Internet users who do not have a FACEBOOK account. Indeed, the company does not inform Internet users that it sets a cookie on their terminal when they visit a FACEBOOK public page (e.g. page of a public event or of a friend). This cookie transmits to FACEBOOK information relating to third-party websites offering FACEBOOK plug-ins (e.g. Like button) that are visited by Internet users.
  • The social network collects data concerning the sexual orientation and the religious and political views without the explicit consent of account holders. In addition, Internet users are not informed on the sign up form with regard to their rights and the processing of their personal data.
  • The website also sets cookies that have an advertising purpose without properly informing and obtaining the consent of Internet users.
  • FACEBOOK compiles all the information it has on account holders to display targeted advertising (information provided by the Internet users themselves, collected by the website and by other companies of the group, and transmitted by commercial partners). As it is, the company provides no tools for account holders to prevent such compilation, which thereby violates their fundamental rights and interests, including their right to respect for private life.
  • FACEBOOK transfers personal data to the United States on the basis of Safe Harbor, although the Court of Justice of the European Union declared invalid such transfers in its ruling of October 6, 2015.


French authorities are following closely the legal decisions of their Belgian counterparts and are increasing the pressure on Facebook. Call me a fool but I see an indirect link with the financial pressure but on Facebook and other IT companies by the European Commission.  

My reasoning is the following : Facebook spoils data of European users and tries by all means to escape taxes.  Why would authorities not react? What we are witnessing may well be compared to the Uber case. Belgium and France led the case, eventually federating other countries and banning UberPop from Europe.  Sometimes, all you need is a leader paving the way for change.

Image : shutterstock
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Pierre-Nicolas est Docteur en Marketing et dirige l'agence d'études de marché IntoTheMinds. Ses domaines de prédilection sont le BigData l'e-commerce, le commerce de proximité, l'HoReCa et la logistique. Il est également chercheur en marketing à l'Université Libre de Bruxelles et sert de coach et formateur à plusieurs organisations et institutions publiques. Il peut être contacté par email, Linkedin ou par téléphone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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