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17,000 Join Austrian Student’s Facebook Privacy Class Action Lawsuit

(Photo: Spencer E. Holtaway/Flickr Creative Commons)

(Photo: Spencer E. Holtaway/Flickr Creative Commons)

Thousands of Facebook users have joined an Austrian law student’s class action lawsuit accusing the social media giant of violating their online privacy.

The Guardian reports more than 17,000 Faecbook users have signed on to 26-year-old Max Schrems’ lawsuit against the popular global social network.

The suit alleges Facebook violates data protection laws and helps the US National Security Agency (NSA) spy on users.

Schrems has called for a billion Facebook users to join the lawsuit. By Monday, more than 5,000 people had answered his call. By Tuesday, that number had more than tripled.

The student is suing Facebook Ireland, the Dublin-based center which runs the company’s activities outside the US and Canada. The actual suit was filed in the commercial court in Vienna, Austria. PC World reports European Union law allows consumers to sue businesses in either their home country or, if different, the relevant nation. Court costs are lower in Austria than in Ireland.

Schrems accuses Facebook of “basic or obvious violations of the law.” Alleged violations include the company’s privacy policy, its alleged involvement in the NSA’s Prism data collection program, its graph search, its tracking of users on third-party websites, use of intrusive big data systems, and its non-compliance with user data access requests.

“Our aim is to make Facebook operate lawfully in the area of data protection,” Schrems told the Guardian. “We love to complain constantly about data protection problems in Europe, now it’s also time for us to enforce our fundamental rights. Within the framework of this class action individuals can also make a contribution to this effort.”

How much is Schrems seeking to squeeze out of Facebook? Not very much, at least for himself. He is seeking €500 ($670) in damages and unjust enrichment, with an additional €500 for each person who is added to the class action suit.

“This is intentionally low because our main aim is to enforce our fundamental rights,” the online privacy advocacy group Europe-v-Facebook, of which Schrems is the leader, said.

Schrems said the response to his appeal has been “giant.”

“The emails and feedbacks have been really positive and what is interesting is that many people say finally someone is doing something in this direction,” he said.

This isn’t Europe-v-Facebook’s only fight. The group has previously filed complaints against the company with the Irish Data Protection Commissioner (DPC), leading to a 2011 audit of its privacy policies and practices.

Although the audit concluded that Facebook adhered to European data protection principles and was in compliance with Irish law, the company pledged to implement or consider improvements recommended by the DPC.

Facebook, the world’s largest social media network, currently has more than 1.32 billion users, or nearly as many people as live in China. It’s shares have been trading at or near record highs, and the company is valued at nearly $200 billion.

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