A landmark class action lawsuit filed over alleged privacy violations involving 25,000 plaintiffs is moving forward thanks to a ruling handed down by a Austrian court Monday.
Photo: Joerg Koch / DAPD
This lawsuit has been a long time in the making. End the Lie first reported on the activities of the group, known as “Europe v. Facebook” and headed up by Austrian lawyer Max Schrems, in June 2013.
The particular lawsuit at issue was first filed in August and involves 25,000 plaintiffs from Europe, Asia, Latin America and Australia. A total of 75,000 users have applied to join the case.
Each of the plaintiffs is attempting to claim 500 euros from the social networking powerhouse.
Citing Facebook’s participation in the National Security Agency’s PRISM program, the suit claims that the tech giant illegally used their data and is guilty of a “large number” of violation of users’ rights, according to Austrian news outlet The Local.
The lawsuit is now heading for its first hearing on April 9 in a court in Vienna, which will be the first time Facebook will appear in court over the case, according to Techcrunch.
If the plaintiffs win, Facebook could stand to lose some $14 million. In addition to monetary damages, the plaintiffs are demanding a “suspension of data usage” by Facebook.
“Perhaps most importantly, if won — or even if simply prolonged in the public arena — the case could do a lot in PR damage,” Techcrunch notes. “And if Facebook actually loses the case, it could result in orders for Facebook to change its practices in the region.”
Indeed the potential public relations damage is quite widespread. Thus far, Facebook has refused to directly answer the charges, but they may be forced to in court.
“Facebook remains silent on these accusations,” the Europe v. Facebook press release states. “Instead, Facebook simply ‘refutes’ all claims across the board, without explaining why. Facebook simply claims that it cannot be sued by its users.”
Among the accusations made by the lawsuit are: “invalid privacy policies; illegal collection and forwarding of user data; surveillance of users via ‘like buttons’ or ‘apps’; [and] the participation in the NSA ‘PRISM’ program.”
Facebook has also claimed that the lawsuit is invalid in some of the countries where plaintiffs reside.
“Facebook is of the opinion that it cannot be sued: a lawsuit of a larger number of users would be illegal in Ireland (the international headquarters of Facebook), because such a lawsuit would – according to Facebook – violate the ‘public order’ of Ireland,” the group said, according to ZDNet. “At the same time Facebook claims that the lawsuit is also inadmissible in Austria (the location of the plaintiff). Facebook claims that it cannot be sued anywhere effectively.”
The lawyer who is representing the 25,000 users characterized Facebook’s arguments as “really bizarre.”
“We have reviewed all objections from Facebook in great detail and came to the conclusion that they lack any substance,” said Dr. Proksch, the lawyer representing the 25,000 users. “It seems that they try to delay the procedure with partly really bizarre arguments.”
In the past, Schrems’ arguments led to a privacy audit by the data protection commissioner in Ireland.
That audit resulted in Facebook being forced to simplify their privacy policies, explain to users how they are utilizing personal data, flag when they use facial recognition and also limit the retention of ad-click data to two years, ZDnet reports.
Facebook told Techcrunch and ZDNet that they have nothing to add at this time.