European Facebook Class Action Suit Attracts 60K Users As It Passes First Court Hurdle

Some developments around the class action suit filed against Facebook in Europe earlier this month over alleged privacy violations: the Austria-based Europe vs Facebook group organising the suit says that the Vienna Regional Court, where the suit was filed, has reviewed the case and has now given Facebook Ireland four weeks to respond. Ireland is the HQ for Facebook’s international operations, which cover over 80% of its users,

The news comes as some 60,000 people have now signed up to the suit, 25,000 of which have assigned their claims to join the class action, and 35,000 of which have registered to assign their claims when and if the suit widens to cover more users.

At the current 25,000 limit and the €500 per user claim that Europe vs Facebook has set for the suit, Facebook could potentially have to pay out $16,577,438, and considerably more if the suit is expanded. Even so, it’s a relatively small amount of money for the world’s largest social network. The loss of a suit, however, would be more damaging to Facebook’s public image.

The 25,000 registered now are users largely in Europe with German-speaking countries representing the majority of responses — a double unsurprise, considering that Germany has been particularly vocal against companies like Facebook and Google and potential privacy violations; and that the group, led by law student Max Schrems originally hails from this region and has been going after Facebook and its data policies for years.

The other countries strongly represented include the Netherlands, Finland and the UK. Those from the U.S. and Canada are not permitted to register. The reason for this, Schrems tells me, is because of how Facebook assigns its terms and conditions. “For legal reasons we cannot extend it to U.S./Canadian users,” he says. “The class action was filed against Facebook Ireland, the international branch with about 82% of Facebook’s worldwide customers. Users in the U.S. and Canada have a contract with Facebook U.S., another legal entity. They cannot join a class action against an entity that they don’t have any contract with.”

A copy of the recent documentation from the Vienna court is embedded below.

There may be a period of up to eight weeks before we get a legal response from Facebook:

“The Vienna Regional Court has reviewed the class action against Facebook Ireland,” Schrems wrote in a statement. “After the ‘a limine’ review was passed, the Court now ordered Facebook Ireland to respond within four weeks (PDF). The order is very likely on the way to Facebook. The first step in the legal procedure is hereby taken. Facebook Ireland may be able to get an extension of this time limit of additional four weeks.”

And, there could be a chance that Facebook may decide not to respond at all. “If Facebook Ireland would refuse to submit a counterstatement the court would be able to make a judgment in absence based on the lawsuit,” the statement continues.

The suit currently covers a range of allegations over data usage and privacy:

  • Data use policy which is invalid under EU law
  • The absence of effective consent to many types of data use
  • Support of the NSA’s ‘PRISM’ surveillance programme
  • Tracking of Internet users on external websites (e.g. through ‘Like buttons’)
  • Monitoring and analysis of users through ‘big data’ systems
  • Unlawful introduction of ‘Graph Search’
  • Unauthorised passing on of user data to external applications

In the past, Europe v Facebook has gone after Facebook over how the company lets users access their data on the network, and over how Facebook uses that data, with varying amounts of progress made.