The suit was filed in August last year by Max Schrems, front man of the Austrian group Europe-v-Facebook. He claimed Facebook violates European Union law by tracking users on external pages through social plugins, by the use of "big data" systems to spy on users as well with the aid it allegedly gives to the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) for one of its spy programs.
On April 9, the Vienna Regional Court is set to deal with the admissibility of the case in a first hearing, Europe-v-Facebook said Monday.
Facebook has argued it cannot be sued by a large number of people and argues that the suit is inadmissible in Austria, according to Europe-v-Facebook, whose lawyer Wolfram Proksch said in the news release that Facebook's claims "lack any substance." He rebutted the company's claims in a court filing earlier this month and is confident the case will be accepted.
Facebook declined to comment on the legal proceedings.
While the suit was filed by Schrems, he used a possibility in Austrian law to let other interested parties assign their claims to his suit and also sue on their behalf. Within a week, 25,000 Facebook users signed up to join his case against Facebook Ireland, the Facebook entity responsible for processing the data of users outside the U.S. and Canada.
The group stopped accepting sign-ups after the first 25,000, but more than 50,000 additional Facebook users have since registered on fbclaim.com to express an interest in joining the class action at a later stage. Each user currently assigned to the case is claiming €500 (about US$562) in damages, amounting to a total claim of €12.5 million. Apart from Facebook possibly having to pay millions in damages, the court could also declare its business practices illegal under EU law, Europe-v-Facebook said.
Whether the case will even reach a verdict though still remains to be seen.
The new policy is being investigated by the Dutch privacy authority since last month, because it could violate Dutch data protection laws.
Though no official investigation was started in Germany, the new policy is also under scrutiny of data protection authorities there. And notably, on Monday, the country's ministry of justice joined the choir of negative responses ahead of the Friday switch.
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