Over 11,000 jump on European 'class action' privacy suit against Facebook

More than half of the backers come from Germany and Austria, but people are signing up in other countries, the complainant said

A lawsuit filed in Austria against Facebook over the company's privacy policies has gathered over 11,500 participants since Friday, raising the claim against the company to €5.75 million (US$7.7 million), complainant Europe-v-Facebook said Monday.

"It is much more than we expected," said privacy campaigner and Europe-v-Facebook front man Max Schrems. The group is trying to get €500 in damages on behalf of every backer.

That amount is "rather low" compared to similar cases, where courts have awarded amounts ranging from €750 for minor violations up to €2,000, Schrems said. The €500 figure was chosen to get an amount that would be meaningful for Facebook, while not having a "crazy U.S. class action where it is all about the money," he said.

Schrems started inviting Facebook users outside the U.S. and Canada on Friday to join his lawsuit against the company, which was lodged with the commercial court in Vienna, Austria, where he lives.

He sued Facebook Ireland, which is responsible for processing the data of users outside the U.S. and Canada, over alleged privacy violations. They include the company's privacy policy, which according to Schrems is invalid under EU law, Facebook's alleged support of the U.S. National Security Agency's surveillance program and the tracking of Internet users on third party websites through "like" buttons.

People can sign up to join the case via a form on fbclaim.com.  

While Austrian law doesn't allow for a U.S.-like class-action suit, in which people can collectively sue a company, it does allow interested parties to assign their claims to a single person. That person can then sue on behalf of the third parties and redistribute any damages awarded, according to Europe-v-Facebook.

About 50 percent of those signing up are from Austria and Germany, Schrems said, adding that the vast majority of backers come from the EU. Croatia, the Netherlands, Finland and the U.K. follow the German speaking countries, with Croatia approaching 1,000 participants and the Netherlands gathering over 800, Schrems said.

There is also interest from several countries in Eastern Europe as well as South America, while there is lesser traction in Africa and Asia. The biggest number of African backers come from South Africa, where 23 people signed up to back the case, while there are 122 in Australia, Schrems said.

Next, the court will mail paperwork to Facebook. The company will be given eight weeks to respond to the case, Schrems said, adding that he expects a first hearing to take place by the end of the year.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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