Facebook class action reaches court

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Hearings have begun in a civil court in Vienna in the class action against Facebook.

The class action, launched by Austrian law graduate Max Schrems four years ago, is suing Facebook for alleged privacy violations, including what Schrems has described as illegal tracking of data under EU 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 said.

The case has been brought against Facebook’s Irish subsidiary, which is responsible for the registration of all Facebook accounts outside of the US and Canada, which makes up around 80 percent of Facebook users.  The case is being heard in a civil court in Vienna.

On the first day of hearings, Facebook raised procedural objections to the court hearing the matter. A decision as to whether the court has jurisdiction to hear the suit is expected in the next few weeks.

News Corp reported that interest in the case had been overwhelming, attracting thousands of people since the suit was launched in August last year. 

The 25,000 participants are each claiming €500 in damages, and a further 55,000 have registered to join the proceedings at a later stage.

Schrems launched the suit after spending a semester abroad in Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley, where became aware of the relaxed attitude towards European laws by American companies. 

“We have privacy laws here in Europe but we are not enforcing [them],” he said. “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?”

Several complaints filed against Facebook in Dublin have been referred to the European Court of Justice, the results of which are expected in 2016 and could affect all US tech companies operating in Europe.

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