Facebook data privacy lawsuit reaches 25,000 backers

A Facebook data privacy lawsuit has reached the limit of 25,000 sign ups. The class action-type lawsuit alleges that the way Facebook tracks members’ activity is in violation of European Union regulations.

Max Schrems, who had asked Facebook users outside Canada and the US to sign up via www.fbclaim.com, alleges that the online social networking company cooperated with an American clandestine mass electronic surveillance data mining program called PRISM.

PRISM was launched in 2007 by the NSA (National Security Agency), with participation by GCHQ, the British intelligence agency.

PRISM’s existence and activities were leaked by Edward Snowden to journalists of The Guardian and The Washington Post.

Facebook denies PRISM relationship

Facebook said it had known nothing regarding PRISM before details about it were leaked. It has, however, acknowledged complying with requests from US government agencies.

So far, Facebook has made no comment about the complaint. It is believed the social networking giant will not respond until it has received the papers.

€5.75 million claim

The lawsuit, which was filed in Austria, is making a claim against Facebook for €5.75 million (US$7.7 million).

Mr. Schrems, who is trying to get €500 ($667) in damages for each person who signed up to the lawsuit, said regarding the number of backers “It is much more than we expected.”

Mr. Schrems says €500 is “rather low” compared to other similar cases where awards have ranged from €1000 to €2,000. He chose a figure which he describes as being a meaningful amount for Facebook while not having a “crazy US class action where it is all about the money.”

The lawsuit was lodged with the commercial court in Austria’s capital Vienna, where Mr. Schrems lives. The complaint is directed at Facebook Ireland, which is responsible for processing users’ data outside Canada and the US.

He says Facebook’s privacy policy does not comply with EU law.

According to Austrian law, one person can sue on behalf of third parties and then redistribute monies awarded by the courts.

Facebook privacy lawsuit

Mr. Scrhems was surprised at how quickly the number of backers reached 25,000.

Most backers come from the EU

Approximately half of the backers are from Germany and Austria, Mr. Schrems said, followed by Finland, the UK, the Netherlands and Croatia. A sizable number are from Eastern Europe and South America. Although there are some from Africa and Asia, the numbers are considerably lower.

When the papers are mailed to Facebook, it will have eight weeks to respond. Mr. Schrems expects the first hearing to take place at the end of 2014.

In an interview with the BBC, Mr. Schrems said:

“It is not an epic fight with Facebook but more of a general question of where we are going and if we respect our fundamental rights in Europe.”

“Right now I have the feeling that we love to point the finger at the US in Europe, and say they are not respecting our privacy. But the reality is that we don’t really do anything about it – we complain, then go home and drink beer.”

Facebook, based in Menlo Park, California, is the world’s largest social networking website, with nearly 1.4 billion active monthly users. It was created by five students at Harvard University in 2004.

Video – Thousands join privacy lawsuit against Facebook

At the time of this video report, published three days ago, the number of sign ups had reached 17,000. Since then, the 25,000 limit has been reached.