Facebook faces Austrian privacy lawsuit

An Austrian Facebook user is spearheading a privacy class action on behalf of another 17,000 users around the world.

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In what's being billed as "David versus Goliath" lawsuit, a single Facebook user in Austria has launched a class action against the social network for supporting surveillance by America's National Security Agency (NSA).

The class action was launched on 1 August by Max Schrems, a 26-year-old Austrian law student, on behalf of another 17,000 Facebook users. Under Austrian law, as in many other jurisdictions, one person can be used as a 'stalking horse' to test a case before involving other litigants.

Under the terms of the suit, the claim for damages has been set at a token €500 per Facebook member and is being financed by a specialist litigation funding company, Roland Prozessfinanz, which says it will take 20 percent of any damages awarded — which could run to millions if the action is successful

Schrems told Reuters: "The emails and feedback have been really positive and what is interesting is that many people say finally someone is doing something in this direction."

Roland Prozessfinanz's chief executive, Arndt Eversberg, said: "We have experience in levelling the playing field in the fight between David and Goliath [and] in this case it is particularly necessary."

Schrems also said in his statement: "Our aim is to make Facebook finally operate lawfully in the area of data protection. Each additional participant also increases the pressure on Facebook."

The action alleges that in its use of the PRISM surveillance programme, the NSA is tracking Facebook users on external websites through the use of features such as the 'Like' buttons and then passing user data to external applications without authorisation. This results in a serious invasion of an individual's privacy, the suit alleges.

Facebook in Europe is based in Ireland.

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