Tuesday 23 December 2014

Lawyer suing Facebook must limit scale of lawsuit after being overwhelmed with support

Ed Carty

Published 06/08/2014 | 11:21

Lawyer Max Schrems is calling on Facebook's one billion users to join a class action fight against the social network over privacy (Europe-V-Facebook.org)
Lawyer Max Schrems is calling on Facebook's one billion users to join a class action fight against the social network over privacy (Europe-V-Facebook.org)

A lawyer suing Facebook in a class action over online privacy will limit the scale of the lawsuit after being overwhelmed with support.

Up to 7,000 users a day from more than 100 countries have registered backing for campaigner Max Schrems's David v Goliath legal challenge in the courts in Austria.

The activist said the case, which could be the largest class and privacy action yet taken, will be restricted to 25,000 members of the social network in order to verify each account.

Mr Schrems said at peak times since last Friday a new user was joining the claim every six seconds.

"We have hoped for large support, but the number of participants in such a short time exceeded my most optimistic expectations," he said.

Germany tops the list for the most people backing the case with 5,287 Facebook users signing up there, while there have been 944 users based in the UK and only 162 from Ireland as of 9am today.

The vast majority of users are based in Europe, and other countries where support is big are Austria with 3,712 users, the Netherlands with 2,438, Finland with 1,179 and Croatia with 1,106.

Mr Schrems said support has been in line with media coverage in most European countries.

"We were well prepared for this huge amount of claims. Nevertheless, we have to limit the claims after this short time, because we will have to verify and administer every individual claim," he said.

"With this number of participants, we have a great basis to stop complaining about privacy violations and actually do something about it. If we are successful, the outcome will, of course, have a positive impact on all users."

When numbers top 25,000, the Europe-V-Facebook.org campaign will continue to register the name and address of users who wish to join the action and they will be prioritised if the claim is expanded.

It is also thought the additional number of claimants will boost the campaigner's case when it is expected to go to court later this year.

Mr Schrems is claiming damages of 500 euros (£397) per supporter in the courts in Vienna for alleged data protection violations by Facebook, including over the US Prism spy programme.

The action is being taken against the Irish subsidiary of the New York-listed web giant.

Mr Schrems has been challenging the social network's use of data through his Europe-V-Facebook.org campaign and the Data Protection Commission in Ireland and has more than 20 active complaints of alleged data breaches filed with the watchdog.

The class action claims Facebook Ireland is in breach of European law on users' data and it violates rights by tracking internet use on external sites, including the use of "like" buttons.

It also attacks Facebook's analysis of users through what it calls "big data" systems.

Mr Schrems claims the company supports the Prism surveillance programme, the US secret service's worldwide monitoring and data mining exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Facebook has several weeks to respond to Mr Schrems's claims.

An earlier landmark battle launched in Ireland to find out what Facebook tells US spy chiefs was referred to the European Court of Justice by a judge in Dublin last month.

Facebook has more than 1.3 billion users. Its shares are trading on the Nasdaq at around 72 US dollars, making it worth in the region of $200 billion .

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