Facebook is in hot water in Europe now that 60,000 people have joined Austrian privacy advocate Maximilian Schrems’ class action lawsuit against the social network. According to the advocate’s site, the Vienna Regional Court in Austria has reviewed the case and commanded Facebook Ireland to respond to the charges within four weeks. Facebook’s international efforts are based in Ireland and serve 80 percent of its users worldwide.
If Facebook’s policies violate EU privacy laws, the social network will likely come under fire elsewhere, too.
Shortly after Schrems announced the lawsuit and called upon Europeans and anyone outside the U.S. and Canada to join him, the lawsuit reached its maximum number of claimants with 25,000 people joining the suit. An additional 35,000 pledged their support for the privacy lawsuit, should it be expanded to include more claimants, bringing the total number of people suing Facebook for violating privacy laws above 60,000.
Most of the claimants are from Germany and other Germany-speaking countries like Austria, who have taken issue with Facebook’s privacy policies. People from the Netherlands, Finland, and the U.K. have also come out against Facebook in large numbers.
If the people defeat Facebook in this lawsuit, each of the 25,000 claimants will get 500 Euros from Facebook, which amounts to 12.5 million Euros or nearly $17 million. Although that’s just pocket change to Facebook, losing the privacy suit would severely damage its reputation around the world and especially in Europe. If they can prove that Facebook’s policies violate EU privacy laws, the social network will likely come under fire elsewhere, too.
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After all, Schrems lawsuit alleges that Facebook assisted the NSA with its PRISM surveillance program, which targeted millions of users. The suit also claims that Facebook violates EU data protection laws and invades users’ privacy. According to Schrems, the way Facebook also tracks users on third-party websites via its “Like” button violates the EU’s data privacy laws. The company’s data use policy and tendency to keep tabs on what users are doing online through “big data systems” are also under fire from the lawsuit.