More than 20,000 people are now suing Facebook in Europe over privacy


In a mere four days, Facebook antagonist Max Schrems has gotten more than 20,000 people to join his “class action” suit against the social network in Austria.

The suit attacks Facebook for multiple violations of European data protection law and, because every user outside the U.S. and Canada has a contract with Facebook’s Irish operations, most of the world is able to join in. Issues covered by the suit range from Facebook’s surreptitious tracking of people’s web use and weak consent requirements to its alleged participation in the NSA’s PRISM scheme.

According to Schrems, a law student, more than 20,000 people from over 100 countries are now participating. Because each claim needs to be verified and added to the suit, the number will soon be capped at 25,000 for the time being, though others will still be able to apply, in case the suit expands.

“The number of registered additional claimants will surely be an important factor for Facebook,” Schrems said in a statement, adding that the sign-up rate had “exceeded my most optimistic expectations.”

“We can run a class action very well with this number of class members,” Wolfram Proksch, Schrems’s lawyer, noted. This isn’t a class action in the U.S. sense, but rather an Austrian variant where all participants use one person – Schrems in this case – as a proxy litigant.

Participants in the suit would only win €500 ($669) each, minus costs and the lawyers’ 20 percent cut. In money terms, this is a low-aiming suit that’s more about fundamental rights than profit — Schrems himself wouldn’t get anything except a broad smile.

If there are 25,000 participants, that would mean a €12.5 million payout – pocket change for Facebook, perhaps, but as the court could also ban Facebook from continuing the offending practices, the money would be the least of the company’s concerns.

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