Facebook Ireland is looking at an international class action lawsuit brought by an Austrian privacy activist. It seems the Social Network has not been adhering to European data protection laws.
A website, fbclaim.com has been launched by the activist, Max Schrems to garner support from those outside America and Canada. Anyone who joined Facebook via the Dublin-based European subsidiary will be able to join in the suit as they would have read and signed the terms and conditions prior to registering as a user. Schrem already had 100 participants via the website an hour after being live.
The lawsuit is seeking €500 ($537 or RM 2139) per user in damages as well as injunctions onto the company. The suit claims that Facebook failed to get “effective consent” for using data, implemented a legally invalid data use policy, tracked users online outside of Facebook via “Like” buttons, used big data to monitor users, failed to make Graph Search opt-in and had unauthorized passing of user data to external apps. The suit also includes Facebook’s involvement in NSA’s Prism program, designed to extract personal data from the public’s internet use. Schrems is pursuing a separate case on this last claim that will be heard by the European Court of Justice.
Schrems originally approached Irish regulators to take action against Facebook but when sufficient action was not taken, he levied the onslaught of charges against Facebook at the Commercial Court for Vienna. As Facebook Ireland chooses California law for civil disputes, remedies will be decided under American law.
The activist cum student attack towards Facebook has been going on for the past four years. It all started when he requested that Facebook send all the data it had on him. Much to his surprise, he received 1200 worth of pages. From there, he started a group called Europe versus Facebook and tried to convince the Social Network to change its policies to ensure they adhere to EU Data Protection law. This led to Facebook abolishing facial recognition and deleting excess data it has on users. However, this wasn’t enough for Schrems due to the fact, Irish authorities could only fine Facebook if requests were not followed.
According to an interview with Schrems, there has been no binding decision on the matter for the past 3 years. The cause of delay is unclear but Irish regulators have managed to put the complaints aside in according to Schrems, an ‘non-EU member way’. He explains that they are simply not processing complaints, and not providing access to the pertinent evidence. In addition, Europe versus Facebook has not been privy to Facebook’s own submissions to the regulator. A possible reason it may have been possible for Irish regulators to resist Schrems various demands, is the vague nature of data protection terminology.
Any registered user of the social network can join the suit before oral evidence is given in the court in Vienna. Schrems has explained further that it is not about the money, the suit is about ensuring correct data protection. “However, if many thousands of people participate we would reach an amount that will have a serious impact on Facebook.” If 10000 people follow the suit, Facebook is looking at a whopping €5 million fee in damages.
Schrems wants Facebook to provide “clear, straight-forward information and active, opt-in consent by users”. “This is also the minimal standard under EU law,” he adds. He further hopes that this class action lawsuit acts a warning to all other companies, big and small that corporations cannot just ignore the fundamental rights of an individual.
Facebook programs such as Graph Search allow user’s data to be available via search which makes sense to find friends and long lost family. However, the main downfall is that users are not given a personal preference in the matter. Data is publicly available without consent being given. Schrems simply wants “some limits” on what data the social network can use, from which sources and for what purposes.
The battle will rage on till someone caves and gives in. It looks like Schrems isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Facebook better man up and just realize how serious this issue is and how its users are just tired of having to protect their own data!