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Facebook given deadline in ‘largest privacy class action in Europe’

Published time: August 22, 2014 12:53
AFP Photo / Lionel Bonaventure

AFP Photo / Lionel Bonaventure

Facebook has been given four weeks to respond to a class action, launched against it by an Austrian activist and supported by 60,000 users. The suit claims Facebook violated users' privacy, by cooperating with the NSA's PRISM program.

The class action initiated by Max Schrems, an Austrian lawyer, data privacy activist and founder of Europe vs. Facebook group has passed its first review in the Vienna Regional Court.

Facebook Ireland, which runs the social network’s activities outside the US and Canada, has been given four weeks to respond to the action.

"The order is very likely on the way to Facebook. The first step in the legal procedure is hereby taken," said a statement by Europe vs. Facebook on Thursday

The group has described the suit, joined by 25,000 users, as “the largest privacy class action in Europe” and specified that 35,000 more users have registered on www.fbclaim.com, expressing their will to join the action should it expand.

Facebook Ireland will have an opportunity to ask the court to extend the time frame for its reply to eight weeks. If the counter-statement from the social network never arrives, then the court will be able to make a judgment in its absence.

Schrems filed the class action at the beginning of August. He claims Facebook practices are in violation of the European data protection law.

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,” Schrems earlier wrote on the Facebook Class Action website.

Austrian law student Max Schrems (AFP Photo / Dieter Nagl)

The activist and the main plaintiff in the suit wants Facebook, which has 1.32 billion active users and is worth around $195 billion, to pay out €500 to each supporter of the class action, in case his allegations are supported in court. Compensation is not the Schrems’ ultimate goal: that is to force Facebook to change its policies to ensure users’ personal data is protected.

Facebook Ireland has not yet commented on the legal action.

It’s not Schrem’s first attempt to challenge US web giants for alleged violations of private data.

His Europe vs. Facebook challenged the Irish Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (ODPC) a year ago by demanding it to probe into the activities of US companies, including Facebook, to assess their involvement in the NSA spy scandal.

The watchdog rejected the appeal. The group then took its legal battle to the Irish High Court, which referred the case to the European Court of Justice in July.

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