EU court rules sites must warn about Facebook's 'like' button

Andrew Cummings
July 30, 2019

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled Monday that companies in the European Union that embed the Facebook "Like" button on their websites are to be held liable for collecting data.

The data of visitors to the website was being transferred back to Facebook without their knowledge, even if they hadn't clicked the button or weren't members of the social network, the court found. The court said that the operator of a website, such as Fashion ID, has to obtain prior consent for the collection and transmission of user data to Facebook.

The ruling came after a German consumer body sued German fashion retailer Fashion ID for using the Like button, which violated data protection rules.

In reality, users are giving information to Facebook via sites with the Like button and are not aware of it. This would provide a little more informed conser and/or choice to consumers who may not want any of their data at all to head to the internet giant.

The case moved through the German legal system, from a local Dusseldorf court to Germany's highest court in Berlin, who, in lack of a clear precedent, sought an official opinion from the ECJ past year, before issuing a final judgment.

Facebook isn't the only company whose widgets are embedded in websites, so it's thought the ruling might have far-reaching consequences for a number of companies using social plug-ins. However, it goes on to say that "by contrast, that operator is not, in principle, a controller in respect of the subsequent processing of those data carried out by Facebook alone". Verbraucherzentrale, which is based in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, had argued that Fashion ID did not obtain users' consent before sending the data to Facebook. The Berlin court can - or not - use this opinion in its final ruling in the Fashion ID case. It seems, at the outset, impossible that Fashion ID determines the purposes and means of those operations.

The Court has also provided further information in respect of two of the six cases provided for in the directive in which the processing of personal data can be considered lawful.

Websites that don't have a direct commercial benefit may drop social plugins altogether.

"We are carefully reviewing the court's decision and will work closely with our partners to ensure they can continue to benefit from our social plugins and other business tools in full compliance with the law", said Facebook associate general counsel Jack Gilbert in a statement.

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