Facebook hit with international class action privacy suit by Austrian student

Austrian law student Max Schrems is calling on 1 billion of Facebook’s global users to join him in a lawsuit against Facebook over privacy rights.

Max Schrems, who has sued Facebook and several other top US tech companies before, the class action suit against the social media company was launched Aug. 1 in Austria

The legal proceeding will run as a class action because the Austrian law allows a group of people to transfer their financial claims to a single person – Schrems, in this case.

Student-launches-global-law-suite-against-Facebook

Anyone outside of the US and Canada can join activist and law student Max Schrems’ suit via the website fbclaim.com, since they will have signed up to Facebook’s terms and conditions via the Dublin-based European subsidiary. That amounts to around 82 percent of all Facebook users. After being live for just one hour, the site has collected 100 participants.

“Facebook has a long list of violations,” Schrems wrote on Facebook Class Action website. “For this lawsuit we have chosen basic or obvious violations of the law: The privacy policy, participation in the PRISM program, Facebook’s graph search, apps on Facebook, tracking on other web pages (e.g. via the ‘like buttons’), ‘big data’ systems that spy on users or the non-compliance with access requests.”

The damages being claimed are 500 euros, or around $670, per supporting user for the alleged violation of data privacy  for the following breaches:

  1. Failing to get “effective consent” for using data
  2. Implementing a legally invalid data use policy
  3. Tracking users online outside of Facebook via “Like” buttons
  4. Using big data to monitor users
  5. Failing to make Graph Search opt-in
  6. The unauthorised passing of user data to external apps
  7. Its involvement in NSA’s Prism programme, designed to extract personal data from the public’s internet use. (Schrems is pursuing a separate case on this due to be heard by the European Court of Justice.)

The suit itself has been dubbed a “David and Goliath” lawsuit, and eventually could become the largest lawsuit ever to take place in Europe.

Schrems is levying the onslaught of charges against Facebook at the Commercial Court for Vienna after failing to convince Irish regulators to take, what he sees, as sufficient action. As Facebook Ireland chooses California law for civil disputes, remedies will be decided under US law.

“We are only claiming a small amount, as our primary objective is to ensure correct data protection. However, if many thousands of people participate we would reach an amount that will have a serious impact on Facebook.”

The lawsuit claims that Facebook Ireland is in breach on European law on data, saying that it essentially violates users’ rights by tracking Internet visits on external sites that use features including the “Like” button.

“We want to show to the U.S. industry that they have to respect [European] fundamental rights if they want to do business in Europe,” the 26-year-old said. “We love the technology, but we want to be able to use things without permanent worry for our privacy. Right now you have two options: live like in the stone age, or take action. We decided for the second.”

The users aren’t risking any money by joining the case as a German legal financing provider will bear the legal costs if Schrems loses.

In case of victory the 26-year-old student will receive the same 500 euros as any other class action claimant.

However, US and Canadian users won’t be able to participate as the lawsuit is filed against Facebook Ireland, which runs all of the company’s operations outside North America.

“We have this habit of pointing the finger at the US, but we’re not enforcing our rights anyway,” Schrems told Reuters. “If we can get a class action through like this, it will send out a huge signal to the industry overall.”

The Austrian appealed to the Irish High Court to rule on allegations that US companies, including Microsoft, Google and Facebook, helped the NSA harvest private data from EU citizens.

This is certainly not the first time that Facebook has been criticized for violating data protection laws. A data watchdog group in Britain recently began an investigation into a 2012 experiment on unknowing users in which Facebook tried to change users’ emotional state to see if their postings became more positive or negative.

This is also not the first time that Max Schrems is involved in legal action against Facebook. He famously requested that Facebook disclose all the information that they had on him, after which he received a stack of 1,222 pages. In 2012 he also forced Facebook to remove its photo-tagging suggestion feature in Europe, saying that the feature violated users’ privacy.