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MADRID: Facebook has been fined 1.2 million euros for collecting personal information from users in Spain that could then be used for advertising, the national data protection watchdog said on Monday.

The fine stemmed from an investigation into the social network company, which was conducted alongside similar probes in Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands, the AEPD authority said.

The 1.2 million euro fine is a fraction of Facebook´s quarterly revenue of about $8 billion and stock market capitalisation of around $435 billion.

AEPD said it found three cases in which Facebook had collected details such as the gender, religious beliefs, personal tastes and browsing history of its millions of Spanish users without informing them how such information would be used.

Facebook said that it took seriously the privacy of people who use its service, complied with European Union data protection law, and planned to appeal the decision.

"As we made clear to (AEPD), users choose which information they want to add to their profile and share with others, such as their religion.

However, we do not use this information to target adverts to people," a company spokeswoman said.

AEPD said the US tech giant did not sufficiently inform users about how it would use data collected on third-party websites, and did not obtain consent to use it.

"Facebook's privacy policy contains generic and unclear terms," the authority said in a statement.

"The social network uses specifically protected data for advertising, among other purposes, without obtaining users´ express consent as data protection law demands, a serious infringement.

"Using cookies, Facebook also collects data from people who do not have an account on the social network but navigate other pages containing a "like" button, AEPD said.

Facebook users´ activity can also be tracked on third-party sites, and the information collected added to what is already associated with a Facebook account, AEPD said.

According to Facebook, targeting people with content relevant to topics they have indicated an interest in is widely used by the digital advertising industry and is different from showing people content that is based on personal data supplied by users.

AEPD said it also found evidence the network kept information for more than 17 months after users closed their accounts.

Facebook says it deletes data like photographs and status updates when accounts are closed, in a process which can take up to 90 days but is usually completed sooner.


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