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As Facebook privacy suit reaches 25,000 participant target, court is still unsure if it will allow it

Loek Essers | Aug. 7, 2014
The commercial court in Vienna will probably know on Friday if it will accept the case.

An Austrian 'class action' lawsuit against Facebook over the company's privacy policies is expected to reach a limit of 25,000 participants on Wednesday. It remains however uncertain if the commercial court in Vienna will accept the case.

"We're at about 22,000 participants," said Europe-v-Facebook front man and main complainant Max Schrems on Wednesday morning European time. He expected to reach a self-set limit of 25,000 participants in the afternoon who will each claim €500 (US$668) in damages, amounting to a total claim of €12.5 million.

The number of participants will be limited because Schrems and his team will have to verify and administer every individual claim, he said, adding that 25,000 participants is enough to make a point. "For the political purpose of the suit it doesn't really matter if there are 40,000 or 25,000 participants," he said, adding that he didn't expect to gather so many participants in such a short time span.

"We thought we were going to get to that number but not within five or six days," he said. When the threshold of 25,000 is reached people can join a waiting list and could be added to the claim later, Schrems said.

Schrems sued Facebook Ireland, which is responsible for processing the data of users outside the U.S. and Canada, over alleged privacy violations.

Facebook users outside the U.S. and Canada were invited to join his suit against the company last Friday. They can sign up via

Facebook's privacy policy is invalid under EU law, according to Schrems. The suit also alleges that the company violates privacy laws when it tracks users on third party websites through "Like" buttons, while its alleged support of the U.S. National Security Agency's surveillance program is also part of the case.

Though a U.S.-style class action suit in which people can collectively sue a company isn't possible under Austrian law, Schrems is adamant that the court will allow his case. Under Austrian law, interested parties can assign their claims to a single person. That person can then sue on behalf of the third parties and redistribute any damages awarded, he said.

However, the commercial court in Vienna hasn't decided yet if it will accept the case, a spokesman for the court said. "The responsible judge is currently checking whether the claim is correct and appropriate," he said, adding that a decision might be taken by the end of the week.

There have been other class action-like claim constructions in Austria before but they were of a different kind, the spokesman said. In one of those cases investors who bought shares through banks demanded compensation because they didn't get the return on investment the banks promised, he said.


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