In many ways, European attitudes about privacy are considerably more conservative than those in the United States. This has not only shaped basic legal proceedings across the pond, but has also been a source of a contention between EU citizens and tech companies. Facebook, with its checkered past as it relates to privacy, has come under scrutiny for the way it collects and disseminates information about its users, and a class action suit in Europe is gaining momentum that could challenge the social media giant.
On August 21 a Vienna court reviewed a class action lawsuit pending against the Irish branch of Facebook, giving the company four weeks to respond to allegations that it violated its agreement with users through its complacency with U.S. spy activity. The group of plaintiffs—calling themselves Europe v. Facebook after the case — comprises over 25,000 European Facebook users, and is led by Austrian citizen Max Schrems.
According to the group’s website, the call for comments means “the first step in the legal procedure is hereby taken.”
Since Austrian courts do not allow for U.S. style class action suits — requiring suits be brought by individuals instead—in this case, Schrems will act as the single plaintiff, but will redistribute and award gleaned from the case to the other participants.
Though the news that Austrian courts have kicked off proceedings shows movement towards a conclusion to this issues, it could still be months before additional actions are taken.
“Facebook Ireland may be able to get an extension of this time limit of additional four weeks. If Facebook Ireland would refuse to submit a counter statement the court would be able to make a judgment in absence based on the lawsuit,” the group said in a statement on their website.
In addition to taking up cases against Facebook, EU citizens have also recently been able to enforce the “right to be forgotten” on search engines like Google. No word yet on if and when these movements will come stateside.