Belgian court orders Facebook to stop tracking web users

This file photo taken on February 24, 2016 shows the "Facebook" logo pictured on the sidelines of a press preview of the so-called "Facebook Innovation Hub" in Berlin on February 24, 2016. (AFP)
Updated 16 February 2018
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Belgian court orders Facebook to stop tracking web users

BRUSSELS: A Belgian court on Friday ordered Facebook to stop tracking Internet users in Belgium who have no accounts with the social network, or face fines of 250,000 euros a day.
The California-based firm vowed to appeal the ruling amid increased efforts in Europe to boost privacy protections in a digital economy dominated by US giants.
Facebook must “stop following and recording Internet use by people surfing in Belgium, until it complies with Belgian privacy laws,” the Brussels court said.
It based its verdict on a probe by Belgium’s privacy watchdog into Facebook’s use of pixels and cookies, tracking devices that follow a user’s Internet activity.
The court warned Facebook it could face fines of 250,000 euros per day or a maximum of 100 million euros ($125 million) if it failed to heed the ruling.
“Facebook must also destroy all personal data obtained illegally,” the court ordered.
Finally, it said, the social network must publish the complete 84-page verdict on its own website and excerpts in Belgium’s Dutch-language and French-language newspapers.
The court said it “determined that Facebook does not respect Belgian privacy law,” basing its ruling on the investigation of Belgium’s privacy watchdog CPVP.
In 2015, the watchdog lodged a legal complaint over Facebook’s tracking of Internet users when they visit pages on the site or click “like” or “share,” even if they are not members.
The court said Facebook used its cookies to track people not only on its own website but also on third-party websites.
It added that the investigation showed that “Facebook can still follow your surfing behavior,” even if you have never visited its website, through invisible pixels the firm has placed on 10,000 other websites.
Echoing the privacy watchdog’s conclusions, it said that the social network does not properly inform people about the fact it is gathering information about them.

Without obtaining the user’s “valid” consent, the court said, Facebook not only fails to say what kind of information it collects, but does not make clear how it uses it or how long it stores it.
The European Consumer Organization (BEUC) welcomed the court verdict.
“This is a big win for Internet users who don’t want tech companies to monitor every step they make online,” BEUC spokesman Johannes Kleis said in a statement.
“What Facebook is doing is against Europe’s data protection laws and should be stopped throughout the EU,” Kleis added.

“We are disappointed with today’s verdict and intend to appeal,” Facebook said in a statement.
“Over recent years we have worked hard to help people understand how we use cookies to keep Facebook secure and show them relevant content,” it added.
“We’ve built teams of people who focus on the protection of privacy — from engineers to designers — and tools that give people choice and control,” it said.
It said the cookies and pixels it uses are “industry standard technologies,” allowing hundreds of thousands of businesses to grow and reach customers across the bloc.
Facebook, it said, requires any business using its technologies to give “clear notice to end-users.”
People, it added, also have the right not to have data collected on sites and apps off Facebook being used for ads.
Facebook said it was making preparations for the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — a new EU law designed to protect privacy online — to come into force on May 25.
“We’ll comply with this new law, just as we’ve complied with existing data protection law in Europe,” Facebook said.
A consumer rights organization said Monday that a German court had found Facebook is breaching data protection rules with privacy settings that over-share by default and by requiring users to give real names.


Racist tropes in Ramadan TV satires anger black Arabs

Updated 23 June 2018
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Racist tropes in Ramadan TV satires anger black Arabs

  • In the Egyptian show called “Azmi We Ashgan,” which aired on the privately owned Al-Nahar channel, comedian Samir Ghanem and his daughter Amy Ghanem appear in blackface, wearing wigs with Rastafarian-looking braids
  • In another sketch aired on state-run Kuwait TV, an ensemble of Kuwaiti actors appear in blackface, wearing traditional Sudanese turbans and jalabeyas, the long garment worn by men in Upper Egypt and Sudan

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: In an attempt to capitalize on what’s become a ratings bonanza for Arabic satellite channels during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, two comedies struck the wrong chord with audiences when their lead actors appeared in blackface, a form of makeup that darkens the skin to represent a caricature of a black person.
Criticism was swift on social media, but failed to trigger a deeper discussion on racism in the Middle East.
The shows — one produced in Egypt and the other in Kuwait — also poked fun at Sudanese culture, making a mockery of the Sudanese Arabic dialect and portraying darker skinned people from Sudan as either poor or lazy.
In the Egyptian show called “Azmi We Ashgan,” which aired on the privately owned Al-Nahar channel, comedian Samir Ghanem and his daughter Amy Ghanem appear in blackface, wearing wigs with Rastafarian-looking braids.
Amy’s character is a half-Sudanese, half-Malawian housemaid who works for a rich, older Egyptian man who makes unwanted sexual advances toward her. Her father onscreen, played by her real-life father, arrives at the house in hopes he too can live there.
Her boss responds in anger, saying: “Did I get this house for fun or did I buy it to set free some slaves?“
In another sketch aired on state-run Kuwait TV, an ensemble of Kuwaiti actors appear in blackface, wearing traditional Sudanese turbans and jalabeyas, the long garment worn by men in Upper Egypt and Sudan.
In the show, called “Block Ghashmara,” Kuwaiti actor Dawood Hussein’s character lounges around on a daybed and constantly falls asleep. He repeatedly says “ayy” in a horse-like pitch, exaggerating the Sudanese dialect.
The backlash from Sudanese viewers was swift, prompting Hussein to issue an apology for what he said was a “misunderstanding with our brothers, loved ones and family in Sudan.”
“I have the bravery to apologize if this offended people and I don’t want anyone offended by me,” he said. In a nod to Sudan’s often overlooked contribution to Arab Gulf countries, he also noted that he was proud to have been taught by Sudanese teachers in Kuwaiti schools.
Khalid Albaih, a Sudanese political cartoonist living in Denmark who spoke out online against the skits, said it surprised him that so many actors, writers and producers on both shows didn’t stop to question the offensive nature of the scenes before they aired.
“They need to figure out a better way to represent black people,” he told the AP. “It is laziness and a lack of talent that gets an actor to do that.”
When a viewer similarly criticized the Egyptian show “Azmi We Ashgan” on Twitter for relying on old racist tropes for laughs, writer Ahmed Mohy responded that the show did not mean to insult anyone, but he also defended the show’s take on humor.
“There’s no difference between someone who is black or white. It’s normal to also show a white person as a janitor or waiter, just as we can show a black person working in any job,” he wrote on Twitter.
Despite criticism on social media, the exchanges failed to produce a bigger society-wide discussion, analyst Hana Al-Kharmi wrote in an opinion piece for Al-Jazeera.
“There is almost no public debate about it within the wider Arab society. On the contrary, there is a popular outright denial that racist attitudes against black people exist,” she wrote.
After seeing the Kuwaiti show online, Sara Elhassan, a 33-year-old Sudanese-American writer based in Phoenix uploaded videos on Instagram criticizing the show and its depiction of Sudanese people.
“Everybody knows there is a discrimination issue in the Middle East when it comes to black people or darker skinned people,” she told The Associated Press in a phone interview, “but people are still in denial a little bit about it.”
“We like to say: ‘Oh we are all Muslim. We can’t be racist,’” she added.
Beginning around the 1940s, Egyptian movies were not too unlike Hollywood films in that black actors were often cast as servants and doormen. Darker-skinned women were often cast as housemaids and prostitutes.
Since then, attitudes in the US have shifted. As the Ramadan shows were airing, a major television network in the US was quick to cancel the popular reboot of “Rosanne” after its star, Roseanne Barr, posted a racist tweet that referred to a former adviser to Barack Obama as a product of the Muslim Brotherhood and “Planet of the Apes.”
ABC announced Thursday it will air a spinoff of the show without its star this fall, rebranding it as “The Conners.”
Film critic and curator Joseph Fahim said part of the problem in tackling racism in Arab media is that there’s a general lack of understanding among audiences in the region as to why these skits are offensive.
“There isn’t a culture of sensitivity,” Fahim said. “It’s not there. It’s not as if this has been thought through. It wasn’t even thought out. This is how it’s been done over decades, and people think that it’s OK.”