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After privacy ruling, Facebook now requires Belgium users to log in to view pages

Blame the cookies

In response to a privacy ruling, Belgian Facebook users must now sign in to see any content. The change means that if you don’t have a Facebook account, you can’t view Belgian Facebook pages — including public profiles like those of local businesses.

The decision comes after a November court order saying Facebook has run afoul of European privacy law, which is much more stringent than in the US. Facebook limited access to its website rather than remove a tracking cookie, which can live in the user’s browser for up to two years. In the US, Facebook can place cookies like these without asking for permission, but in Europe, companies must get user permission to plant tracking software. Facebook members have consented to being tracked, and the company says the cookie is for security purposes — preventing the creation of fake accounts, account hijacking, and online theft.

Facebook says its cookie was designed to protect user security

"We had hoped to address the BPC's concerns in a way that allowed us to continue using a security cookie that protected Belgian people from more than 33,000 takeover attempts in the past month," Facebook said in a statement given to the BBC. "We're disappointed we were unable to reach an agreement and now people will be required to log in or register for an account to see publicly available content on Facebook." The company plans on contesting the order, which it should receive later this week, but for now Facebook will no longer install the cookie file for users who are not signed in or do not have accounts.

Facebook and the EU don’t see eye-to-eye on privacy, and this isn’t the only case. In October, an EU ruling invalidated a 15-year-old agreement between European countries and American companies about the transfer of personal information to US data centers. But the big European ruling started as a complaint from an Austrian privacy activist lodged with Ireland's data-protection authority in 2013. Since the Belgian ruling relies on European law — not just Belgian law — other European countries could similarly contest Facebook’s use of cookies on non-users.