BRUSSELS Facebook said on Monday it would appeal a court ruling ordering it to stop tracking the online activities of non-Facebook users in Belgium who visit Facebook pages, or face a 250,000 euro ($269,000) daily fine.
Belgium's data protection regulator took the U.S. company to court in June, accusing it of trampling on EU privacy law by tracking people without a Facebook account without their consent.
At stake is the so-called 'datr' cookie, which Facebook places on people's browsers when they visit a Facebook.com site or click a Facebook 'Like' button on other websites, allowing it to track the online activities of that browser.
"We've used the 'datr' cookie for more than five years to keep Facebook secure for 1.5 billion people around the world," a spokeswoman said.
"We will appeal this decision and are working to minimise any disruption to people's access to Facebook in Belgium."
The Brussels court ordered Facebook to stop tracking non-Facebook users in Belgium within 48 hours or pay a daily fine of 250,000 euros to the Belgian privacy regulator, said Margot Neyskens, spokeswoman for Bart Tommelein, Belgian secretary of state for the protection of privacy.
"Facebook can not follow people on the internet who are not members of Facebook which is very logical because they can not have given permission to follow them," Tommelein said in an emailed statement.
Facebook says the cookie only identifies browsers, not people and helps it to distinguish legitimate visits from those by attackers.
The company has also argued that since it has its European headquarters in Ireland it should be regulated solely by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner.
That argument was rejected by the Belgian privacy regulator.
Tommelein said the fact that the Brussels court had ruled meant it had jurisdiction over the company.
(Reporting by Julia Fioretti, Editing by Jane Merriman and David Evans)