Facebook users want £360 each for alleged privacy violations (Wired UK)


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More than 900 Facebook users in the UK are among thousands bringing a class action lawsuit against the social network over supposed privacy law violations.

At least 25,000 users, led by Austrian law graduate Max Schrems, are suing Facebook for allegedly tracking users’ data illegally. Schrems claims Facebook has a “Wild West” attitude to data protection, and says its collection of data from non-Facebook users violates EU regulations.

The lawsuit, which will be heard for the first time at a civil court in Vienna on 9 April, has technically been brought against Facebook’s European office in Dublin, through which all of its non-US and Canadian accounts are registered. Launched in August 2014, the lawsuit quickly attracted huge numbers of people wanting to participate and claim their share of any damages, which are being sought at a “token level” of €500 (£360) per claimant. While 25,000 users are involved in the first stage of the lawsuit, another 55,000 have registered to participate in a second round if proceedings develop as Schrems hopes.

Facebook has not issued any comment on Schrems’ case. It is expected the network will argue the case is inadmissible in Austrian law.

“Basically we are asking Facebook to stop mass surveillance, to (have) a proper privacy policy that people can understand, but also to stop collecting data of people that are not even Facebook users,” Schrems told AFP.

The claimants’ accusations stretch to Facebook’s disputed role in the Prism spying programme, operated by the United States National Security Agency (NSA) and revealed by documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Schrems, who is 27 and a former student at Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley, claims that Facebook co-operated with the Prism programme. Facebook has strongly denied working with the US government on direct mass surveillance and in 2013 helped to form an alliance with other tech giants to call for surveillance reform. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in 2013 that his company “is not and has never been part of any program to give the US or any other government direct access to our servers”. The following year he claimed the US government “blew it” on surveillance and needed “true full reform”.

Schrems is not convinced, and said he intends to set a precedent for stronger enforcement of European privacy laws. “The general approach in Silicon Valley is that you can do anything you want in Europe,” Schrems told AFP. “The core issue is: do online companies have to stick to the rules or do they live somewhere in the Wild West where they can do whatever they want to do?”

“Facebook does a lot so that people don’t get an accurate picture. I am kinda sick of the PR talk of the industry that users have to get educated — it’s the industry’s job to make it clear and simple,” Schrems told WIRED in 2014.

“Blaming the user is totally absurd. EU data protection law also requires consent to be ‘unambiguous and informed’. You hardly find a privacy policy that is unambiguous and leaves the user with serious information.”

“We are only claiming a small amount, as our primary objective is to ensure correct data protection,” he said.

Schrems and his Europe vs.Facebook group are also pursuing claims against Facebook in Ireland, which have since been referred to the European Court of Justice. Evidence in that case, which focuses specifically on Facebook’s alleged involvement in Prism but which could have ramifications for other US tech firms and how they work in Europe, began to be heard in March 2015. A decision is not due until 2016.

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9 April 2015 | 9:40 am – Source: wired.co.uk

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