UK consumers are being urged to join a new battle against what is claimed to be Facebook’s illegal use of data – for everything from advertising to analysis – which could trigger a €500 (£396) pay-out for each person who signs up.
The campaign has already secured 12,000 signaturies within three days and is open to all Facebook users living outside the US and Canada. So far, the largest proportion of participants (about 50%) have come from German-speaking countries, followed high numbers from the Netherlands, Finland and the UK.
The suit has been brought at the Commercial Court for Vienna against Facebook’s Irish subsidiary. The claimant is Viennese lawyer and data privacy activist Max Schrems, who heads up the Europe vs Facebook group.
Schrems will be the sole claimant named, meaning there are no risks that others participating in the action will need to pay any associated costs. The suit is being financed by Austrian law firm Roland ProzessFinanz AG – which will net a fifth (20%) of any winnings, as the legal funding provider.
While the lawsuit aims to claim damages of €500 for everyone involved, the main purpose is to improve the rules of online data privacy and distribution.
The aim is to make the case financially threatening enough for Facebook to take action on creating rules that govern data use better. The current 11,000-strong participation could result in damages of up nearly €6m.
The claimed unlawful acts of Facebook include: Data use policy which is invalid under EU law; the absence of effective consent to many types of data use; support of the NSA’s ‘Prism’ surveillance programme; tracking of Internet users on external websites (e.g. through ‘Like buttons’); monitoring and analysis of users through ‘big data’ systems; the unlawful introduction of ‘Graph Search’; and the unauthorised passing on of user data to external applications’.
Schrems said : “We are only claiming a small amount, as our primary objective is to ensure correct data protection. However, if many thousands of people participate we would reach an amount that will have a serious impact on Facebook.”
To sign up, consumers need to give details including their address, telephone number and a photo ID.
Schrems said the group had chosen Austria as the location for the suit – rather than Ireland where Facebook’s European HQ is located – because it claims the Irish authorities are overly sympathetic to Facebook’s business processes, because the country’s economy is heavily reliant on IT giants.
“We shouldn’t have that problem in Austria. We are therefore transferring the focus of our activities here,” said Schrems.
UPDATE: The campaign has now attracted 25,000 people, the upper limit set by Schrems. However, he has said that other Facebook users wishing to take part can still register their interest in case he later decides to expand the legal action.
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