12,000-Plus Join Lawsuit on Facebook's EU Privacy Policies
A European class-action-type effort against Facebook being spearheaded by an Austrian lawyer and privacy advocate has attracted about 12,800 participants since being launched last week.
The action, led by Max Schrems, is the latest in an ongoing campaign to get the social media giant to change how it deals with the massive amounts of data it collects about its online users. Europe v. Facebook, the online face of Schrems' effort, announced Friday that it had filed a civil suit against the company's Irish subsidiary in the Commercial Court for Vienna.
The announcement noted the action "could become Europe's largest data privacy suit."
Schrems began his effort to get Facebook to change its privacy and data collection policies while studying in the U.S. in 2011. Then a law student, he concluded -- after hearing a talk in class by Ed Palmieri, Facebook's privacy lawyer -- that the social media company did not fully appreciate or comply with the European Union's data protection laws.
Most Facebook Users Covered by EU Law
We reached out to Schrems to learn more about his latest action against Facebook. Since the lawsuit was announced on Friday, his online campaign had heard from some 12,800 people who expressed interest in participating in the action, he told us. The initial claim had listed just eight complainants, Schrems added.
While class-action lawsuits per se do not exist under Austrian law, multiple people can "assign" their claims in a complaint to a single person, who could then distribute to them a portion of any court-ordered awards or damages.
Schrems said Roland ProzessFinanz, the legal financing provider handling his complaint, would next assess the validity of all the would-be participants. Under the EU privacy laws being applied to the case, participants must be from outside the U.S. or Canada, where social media usage terms are governed by Facebook's U.S. arm.
According to Europe v. Facebook, all other users have a contract with Facebook's Irish subsidiary. "Roughly 81.2% or active users worldwide have a contract with Facebook Ireland Ltd.," the Web site says.
Facebook will have eight weeks to respond to the latest complaint. The Austrian court is then expected to consider the case sometime before the end of the year, Schrems said. A Facebook spokesperson reached by e-mail Monday said the company had not yet been served any papers in the latest case.
"When we have, we will look into it," the spokesperson said.
Further Complaints: NSA Spying and 'Illegal' Analytics
Schrems first filed complaints against Facebook through the Irish Data Protection Agency. That case was referred to the European Court of Justice in July.
Schrems said he had several concerns about how Facebook handled user data and privacy, and would like to see the company take an "opt-in" versus an "opt-out" approach on such matters.
"Generally, I want them to do the most basic things required under (EU) privacy laws," he said.
The latest complaint filed in Austrian court also accuses Facebook of "aiding the NSA [U.S. National Security Agency] to run the 'PRISM' spy programme," as well as tracking users on external pages through 'social plug-ins,' and conducting "illegal 'big data' analytics."
The suit seeks a damage amount of 500 euros (about $670) per user, and notes that "Schrems will not receive any remunerations as the lead plaintiff." If successful, 20 percent of any award will go to Roland ProzessFinanz, with the rest likely to be distributed among the other complainants. However, Europe v. Facebook's FAQ on the matter notes the "participants should not anticipate a certain financial benefit."