Today sees Facebook head to court in Europe for the first time in relation to a privacy-focused class action lawsuit brought about by an Austrian law graduate.
Led by Max Schrems, Europe vs. Facebook has 25,000 signed-up claimants, who could stand to gain around 500 euros ($540) each if the suit is successful. The class action was first launched last August, following a number of individual cases brought by Schrems against Facebook in Ireland, the social network’s European headquarters, relating to how the social network handles user data in Europe.
Facebook formally responded to the suit last November claiming that it wasn’t admissible, though it hasn’t yet agreed for its response to be made publicly available.
The class action lawsuit focuses on a range of areas that claim Facebook violates users’ rights, including:
- Invalid privacy policies
- Illegal collection and forwarding of user data
- Surveillance of users via “like buttons” or “apps”
- Participation in the NSA “PRISM” program
With 25,000 people now backing Schrems, and many more on standby should the case be given the greenlight to open to more claimants, this is one of Europe’s biggest ever privacy class action lawsuits and signifies a growing concern across the continent that the courts may find difficult to ignore.
It’s for this reason that Facebook isn’t in court today to defend itself against the allegations presented within the suit — no, Facebook is arguing against the legitimacy of the case to even begin, using what Schrems refers to as “procedural objections,” with Facebook arguing that the Vienna court in Schrems’ home country “is not competent under European procedural laws.”
Schrems says he was forced to file the suit in his home country rather than Ireland, because Facebook argues that “a lawsuit of a larger number of users would be illegal in Ireland because such a lawsuit would violate the ‘public order’ of Ireland.”
“Most arguments by Facebook are really a comedy program for any informed lawyer. Partly they are even trying to reach their conclusions through rather obscure allegations. Right now I view these arguments mainly as an act of desperation. If Facebook would have a better case, they would not have to engage in these shaky arguments.”
It’s typical for companies to use delay tactics to deter consumer lawsuits, given the time and resources required to follow a complaint through the various stages and courts. However, this particular class action lawsuit is backed by a non-profit organization that’s funded by a German procedure financing company called Roland Prozessfinanz AG.
The long and short of all this is that Facebook doesn’t want the claims made within the lawsuit to even be heard in a court, and it’s doing all that it can to ensure it’s stopped dead in its tracks. Schrems is confident that Facebook’s claims are baseless, and the court in Vienna will give the go-ahead to the next stage.
Today probably won’t herald any final decision, however, as it’s just an initial hearing with the verdict likely coming at a later date. However, it’s the first time Facebook has actually had to be present in any capacity relating to this case, even if it is just via an appointed Austrian lawyer for the time being.