Facebook hit with deadline on EU privacy challenge

An Austrian court has given Facebook Ireland four weeks to respond to a class action that claims the network is breaking European privacy laws

An Austrian court has given Facebook four weeks to respond to a class action that claims Facebook Ireland is in breach of European law on the use of personal data.

The class action, led by Austrian privacy activist and law student Max Schrems, claims Facebook violates user rights by tracking internet use on external sites, including the use of “like” buttons.

The class action, which has attracted the support of more than 60,0000 users of the social network, also attacks Facebook’s analysis of users through what it calls “big data” systems.

Schrems believes Facebook supports the US Prism surveillance programme revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The Vienna Regional Court issued the deadline to Facebook after reviewing the class action, according to an update on the Europe vs Facebook campaign website.

“The first step in the legal procedure is hereby taken,” the update said.

According to the campaign led by Schrems, Facebook Ireland could apply for an extension, but if it fails to submit a counterstatement, the court will be able to make a judgment based on the lawsuit.

More than 25,000 Facebook users from outside the US and Canada have signed up as part of the class action, and a further 35,000 have registered their support on the campaign website.

A week after launching the class action, Schrems announced he would limit the number official claimants to 25,000 because every claim had to be verified.

In June, another case brought by Schrems to force data protection authorities to investigate allegations that Facebook passes personal data to the US National Security Agency was  referred to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg by the high court in Dublin.

On launching the class action in Austria, Schrems said: “Our aim is to make Facebook finally operate lawfully in the area of data protection.”

The class action applies to injunctions under EU data protection law and seeks damages of a token amount of €500 per user.

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

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