EU court allows Max Schrems’ individual case against Facebook to proceed in Austria

26 Jan 2018

Facebook mobile app. Image: Neirfy/Shutterstock

Privacy advocate Max Schrems’ legal battle with Facebook rumbles on.

Lawyer Max Schrems has been a thorn in Facebook’s side for several years now and an official ruling from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) doesn’t quite mean the end of the fight between the two.

Back in November 2017, EU advocate general Michal Bobek spoke on behalf of the ECJ and, in his non-binding opinion, there was a basis for an individual case to be brought by Schrems against Facebook but no such grounds for a potential class-action suit.

Facebook had argued Schrems’ public status as an author and advocate meant he was no longer a private consumer but Bobek said his consumer status remained intact regardless of his professional activity.

EU rules Schrems can proceed alone

Yesterday (25 January), the ECJ officially ruled along the same lines as Bobek, saying Schrems was within his rights to bring an individual action against Facebook Ireland in an Austrian court but he could not bring the claims of 25,000 signatories to his lawsuit.

Schrems had sought €500 for each of the signatories but the possibility of collective action, in this case, was ruled out.

Schrems did, however, secure the right to sue Facebook in his home country of Austria as opposed to Ireland, where the firm’s EMEA operations are based.

He described the ruling as a blow for Facebook and said the company would need to explain whether its business model “is in line with stringent European privacy laws”.

Schrems also cast doubt on the ability of the ECJ (referred to by him as the CJEU) to ‘reject’ a class action.

A long-standing legal tussle

Schrems’ legal battle with Facebook goes as far back as 2011 when he lodged 23 complaints before the Irish Data Protection Commissioner about alleged privacy violations carried out by the company.

Facebook said of the ECJ’s ruling: “Today’s decision by the European Court of Justice supports the previous decisions of two courts that Mr Schrems’s claims cannot proceed in Austrian courts as ‘class action’ on behalf of other consumers.”

The company spokesperson added that Facebook was looking forward to resolving the matter.

In a video statement, Schrems said his team would debate Facebook regarding its privacy policy and bring up allegations of surveillance.

Facebook will also face another case involving Schrems linked to the legality of transferring European data to the US.

Facebook mobile app. Image: Neirfy/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects