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Student files privacy lawsuit against Facebook, gets 2,000+ people to join him

Facebook Privacy Checkup
Image used with permission by copyright holder
Facebook and Austrian law student Maximilian Schrems are no strangers. The two have tangoed over privacy concerns a few times before, but now Schrems has much further. On Friday, Schrems filed a class-action lawsuit against Facebook for violating users’ privacy and invited users of the social network around the world to join him.

Schrems filed the lawsuit in an Austrian Commercial court, alleging that Facebook helped the NSA spy on millions of users with its PRISM surveillance program. He also charges Facebook with violating EU data protection laws and invading users’ privacy. Schrems says that Facebook’s policy of tracking users on third-party websites via its “Like” button, its data use policy, and tendency to keep tabs on what users are doing online through “big data systems” are in direct violation of the EU’s data privacy laws.

“The main point is that the major internet companies do not respect our fundamental rights to privacy and data protection.”

On his website, Schrems calls upon all Facebook users outside of the U.S. and Canada to join his lawsuit and force the social network to comply with users’ demands for privacy and EU laws. In Austria, many people can lend their support to a single person’s lawsuit, turing it into a class-action lawsuit.

Those who join Schrems won’t have to pay a cent in legal fees, though, as Roland ProzessFinanz, a specialist funder from Germany, will pay for the suit should it be unsuccessful. If Schrems and his supporters win, the backer will receive 20 percent of the damages. However, as Schrems says in the FAQs section of the website, money is not the object here.

“We are suing Facebook for €500 [$669] in damages and unjust enrichment,” the site says. “This is intentionally low because our main aim is to enforce our fundamental rights. In similar cases courts have always awarded higher amounts (at least €750 for minor violations, up to a couple of €1,000 in other cases).”

“The main point is that the major Internet companies do not respect our fundamental rights to privacy and data protection,” the website explains. “Facebook is only one example of many, but one has to start somewhere.”

According to the Twitter account Schrems created for the case, more than 2,500 people have signed up to support him as of 3:01 p.m. EST Friday August 1. To join his cause, you simply have to go to his website, select your country, say that you are a legal adult according to your country’s laws, and click the Facebook login button. Yes, we realize the irony of that last step.

Last year, Schrems filed a similar lawsuit against Facebook, listing the same charges, in Ireland where the social network runs its internal operations. He has since said that Ireland was not decisive enough against Facebook.  Even though Schrems has yet to achieve a total victory over the social network, he has made history a few times with his actions.

So far he has managed to become the first European to request Facebook disclose all the information it has collected about him. Facebook is notoriously bad at complying with these requests, but it sent Schrems the 1,222 pages of information it has on him. In 2012, he was finally victorious in his efforts to disable the auto-tag function for photos in Europe on the basis that the feature violated user privacy. His efforts to expose Facebook’s connection with the NSA PRISM program have inspired the highest court in Europe to review the legality of PRISM.

Not bad for a 26 year old.

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