Facebook is facing its first ever court appearance in a class action suit, which was filed last year by the Austria-based “Europe vs. Facebook” group (led by law student Max Schrems). A court in Vienna will consider whether Facebook has legitimate objections about the admissibility of the lawsuit in an initial hearing on 9th April.
The suit has attracted 25,000 claimants; all of them European Facebook users who believe their privacy was violated by the social network. If successful, they may claim €500 a head in damages, resulting in a bill for Facebook that could exceed £9 million.
On its website, the Europe vs. Facebook group states:
“We unintentionally landed in the middle of a big experiment after filing 22 complaints against Facebook in Ireland [where Facebook’s European HQ is located], because of breaches of the most basic privacy rules. We happened to look at Facebook for a number of reasons, but the results are very likely exemplary for a whole industry.”
Needless to say, this is a highly significant affair for the future of privacy and data protection. The group raises objections about a range of issues that it believes Facebook has shown cavalier laxity over. They include; breaching data use policy under EU law, tracking its members’ internet visits to external websites through their use of ‘Like’ buttons (without their consent, of course), support for the now-scandalous PRISM mass surveillance policy exposed by Edward Snowden, unauthorised transfer of user data to third party applications, and the unlawful introduction of “Graph Search” amongst them.
A disconnect seems to be emerging between the governed and their governors. The UK Government, for example, despite publicly declaring support for free speech in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, swiftly moved on the back of the atrocity to add even more invasive amendments to its proposed Communications Data Bill, granting security services access to ISP user data without a warrant.
Europe vs. Facebook, by contrast, rapidly attracted 60,000 users to join when it filed the class action suit last year: in addition to the 25,000 formal claimants, there are now in excess of 50,000 others who are signed up and waiting to see if the suit grows to include more people.
Is fear being used to undermine data privacy laws? Many ordinary people (and businesses) appear to think so.