Max Schrems can only sue Facebook in Ireland as himself, not on behalf of 25,000 users.
Austrian activist Max Schrems is allowed to sue the Irish subsidiary of Facebook on a personal basis, but he cannot take a class action.
That’s according to the non-binding opinion of EU advocate general Michal Bobek on behalf of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
‘We need the EU to take their responsibility and to introduce an effective EU-wide tool for the collective enforcement of consumer rights’
– MONIQUE GOYENS
Schrems has been a powerful voice on behalf of Europeans in opposing the transfer of personal data by Facebook’s EU headquarters in Dublin to its US base.
He originally complained about the data transfers by Facebook in the wake of revelations made by Edward Snowden surrounding the NSA’s spying system, Prism, in 2014.
The final ruling of the ECJ in the case taken by the Viennese lawyer is due at a later date.
The advocate general was responding to a request for clarity from Vienna’s supreme court on its own jurisdiction over the case and the issue of class-action lawsuits.
— Max Schrems (@maxschrems) November 14, 2017
Facebook had argued that people can only sue as individual consumers and that, because of Schrems’ public status, he was no longer a private consumer.
It was pointed out that since taking the case, Schrems has published two books, delivered lectures, registered numerous websites, won awards and founded the association Verein zur Durchsetzung des Grundrechts auf Datenschutz.
Schrems also recruited a team of 10 to support him in his “campaign against Facebook”.
Can consumers defend themselves collectively against mass harm?
Bobek said that the carrying out of activities such as publishing, lecturing and operating websites do not entail the loss of consumer status.
The advocate general also clarified that Austrian courts have jurisdiction over Facebook’s subsidiary in Dublin.
However, this is only to sue Facebook on Schrems’s own behalf and not on behalf of the 25,000 German, Austrian and Indian citizens who have transferred their claims to him.
Monique Goyens, director general of The European Consumer Organisation, said she was disappointed with the decision.
“The opinion of the advocate general is disappointing as it would rule out that consumers team up in cases of mass harm. Bundling claims before one court would have been an interesting and practicable solution to claim redress in some cases.
“In any case, access to justice in mass harm cases will not be solved by the courts. We need the EU to take their responsibility and to introduce an effective EU-wide tool for the collective enforcement of consumer rights.
“The Volkswagen scandal has demonstrated that victims of fraudulent actions which financially affect millions of consumers often do not have access to justice,” Goyens said.
The two towers of the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. Image: Peter Fuchs/Shutterstock