Facebook privacy lawsuit moves up to the Austrian Supreme Court

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U.S. tech giants aren’t having a great time in Europe. A class-action lawsuit against Facebook filed by Austrian privacy advocate Maximilian Schrems has reached the Austrian Supreme Court. In 2014, Schrems, a part of Europe v. Facebook, filed the suit and encouraged anyone outside of the U.S. and Canada to participate as claimants — and thousands did.

The suit alleges that Facebook aided the NSA with its PRISM surveillance program and states that its policies violate EU data protection laws and invade users’ privacy. Facebook’s data use policy, its lack of effective consent for its data usage, and the fact that it is tracking users through third-party websites via its “Like” button also violates the EU’s data privacy laws, according to Schrems.

“‘Class action’ is not only legal but also the only reasonable way to deal with thousands of identical privacy violations by Facebook.”

The suit targets Facebook Ireland Ltd, Facebook’s international headquarters, which is based in Ireland and serves 80 percent of its users worldwide. Facebook has said the lawsuit is not in the jurisdiction of any country but the United States.

In July, the Court of Appeals said Schrems can file a suit as a “model case,” with just him as the plaintiff because the claims fall under consumer protection laws, but he wants to make sure the case can be heard as a class-action suit — which is exactly what the Austrian Supreme Court will be considering.

“It would not make a lot of sense for the court or the parties before it to file these claims as thousands of individual lawsuits – which we can still do if a ‘class action’ is not allowed,” Schrems said in the announcement. “We therefore think that the ‘class action’ is not only legal but also the only reasonable way to deal with thousands of identical privacy violations by Facebook.”

In a statement, a spokesperson from Facebook said the company is “awaiting the decision.”

According to the announcement, the Austrian Supreme Court could also refer the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union, ECJ, Europe’s highest court. Regardless of its decision, Facebook will still have to answer to the claims in court. The decision is expected in early 2016, and if the admissibility of the lawsuit is decided, then the court will set a date for the first hearing.

Facebook is also involved in a lawsuit in Belgium on how its tracking cookies process data of non-Facebook users. The court ordered the company to stop using the cookie, or pay a daily fine of 250,000 euros — around $268,900 — to the Belgian privacy regulator. Facebook has appealed that decision.

In October, the Court of Justice of the European Union struck down the transatlantic data flows agreement (Safe Harbor), an agreement among 4,000 U.S. companies that transfers data of Europeans to the United States, including Facebook. EU privacy regulators have given the U.S. until January to come up with a way to protect people’s data.

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