Facebook Privacy Fine Threat Suspended in Dutch Watchdog Probe

Facebook Inc. temporarily escaped daily fines in a tussle with the Dutch privacy regulator over its revamped policy for users’ photos and data.

The Dutch watchdog said Wednesday it lifted the threat of combined penalties totaling as much as 750,000 euros ($845,000) after Facebook agreed to provide information needed to weigh the next steps in the investigation announced in December. The decision comes after Facebook opted to take the case to court.

Dutch regulators stepped in after Facebook alerted its users in November of changes effective in January, claiming the right to use information and images for commercial purposes. The social network has already faced scrutiny over how it may have used the treasure trove of customer data without clear consent.

Facebook has been in “active communication over the past several months” with the Dutch watchdog “as we’ve made repeated attempts to address questions about our establishment in the EU,” it said in an e-mailed statement. “As a company with headquarters in Dublin, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner oversees our compliance with the EU” privacy rules.

The Netherlands clash echoes a similar dispute in Germany over European data-protection rules. The Dutch authority claims it has jurisdiction because the company also has a branch in the Netherlands that processes data of people from there. Facebook was forced in 2012 to delete data collected for its facial recognition program following a probe by the Irish data authority.

Policy Changes

The Dutch regulator had sought a suspension of the privacy policy changes, pending its probe.

“The privacy conditions give Facebook the right, among others, to use data and pictures from Facebook-profiles for commercial purposes,” it said in a statement Wednesday.

The dispute focuses on whether the Dutch data protection authority “is competent to supervise Facebook and whether the company has provided all necessary information in this respect,” the regulator said.

Facebook challenged the regulator’s decision to levy a conditional fine in a Dutch court.

The fine and the court case are now suspended pending the Dutch regulator’s evaluation of Facebook’s answers to its questions, the Dutch authority said.

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