Facebook under scrutiny for privacy policy

Class action lawsuit has been signed by 17,000 people

legal hammer

Facebook has come under fire from privacy rights supporters, who claim the social network should implement data protection changes and pay out damages to users for evading privacy over the years.

More than 17,000 people have signed a petition asking that each Facebook user is rewarded 500 (400) in damages because the group believes the company has violated data protection laws and is supporting spying by America's National Security Agency (NSA).

Austrian law student Max Schrems is leading the petition and filed a law suit on August 1, asking that Facebook be held to account in a law suit in his own country. He's hoping than one billion Facebook users will support his cause.

As Facebook's HQ in Europe, the responsibility to fight the case will come from Facebook Ireland, based in Dublin. 

Schrems said in a statement: "Our aim is to make Facebook finally operate lawfully in the area of data protection. Each additional participant also increases the pressure on Facebook.

"We are only claiming a small amount, as our primary objective is to ensure correct data protection. However, if many thousands of people participate we would reach an amount that will have a serious impact on Facebook," he added.

Schrems said Facebook's allegedly illegal activities include support of the NSA's spying activities, tracking its users on external websites, passing on user data to third-party companies and applications without permission and not asking for authority to use data in other ways.

Austrian law allows responsibility for a group action to fall on one individual - in this case Schrems - who will represent all those who sign the petition in court.

The campaign is being financed by litigation firm Roland Prozessfinanz and the company's 20 per cent fee will be deducted from the total damages awarded. Anything left over after costs will be given back to the claimants, unless it's under 5 in which case it will be donated to charity.

Schrems said he wasn't bothered about how much he received back, but it was more important to him for Facebook to change its privacy rules.

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