Facebook must face privacy lawsuit in Austria, EU court rules

But plaintiff Max Schrems must stand alone, as the court has ruled out the option of a class action

Facebook must defend its privacy policy against a consumer lawsuit in an Austrian court, the European Union’s highest court has ruled. Its judgement has consequences for all businesses handling the personal information of consumers in the EU. 

The lawsuit concerns claims by Austrian resident Max Schrems that Facebook infringed data-protection laws regarding his private Facebook account, and those of seven other users who assigned him their claims, creating a sort of class action.

Facebook makes its money by targeting advertising at its users based on their age, gender, location, interests, and behaviors. In the third quarter of 2017 it made over US$10 billion in revenue, 88 percent of it from mobile users.

The company had argued that the Austrian courts did not have jurisdiction over Schrems’ claims because he had acted as a professional, not a consumer, using Facebook to promote his book and lectures on data protection. EU law allows consumers, in certain circumstances, choose the forum for litigation, for example to sue businesses in their home country rather than where the company has its registered office.

The dispute over jurisdiction went all the way to Austria’s Supreme Court, which referred the question of Schrems’ status as a consumer to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

If the CJEU had followed Facebook’s reasoning, it would have been forced to conclude that Schrems had forfeited the right to consumer forum, and would have to sue Facebook in Ireland, where the subsidiary through which it makes contracts with EU users, Facebook Europe, is based.

On Thursday the court concluded that Schrems’ use of his Facebook account is that of a consumer, as he uses a separate Facebook page for his professional activities.

However, it rejected the notion that others could benefit from his consumer status to join his Austrian lawsuit. They will have to file their own lawsuits, it concluded.

This means Facebook will have to face Schrems’ accusations of breaches of data protection rules in the Austrian courts -- but he and 25,000 other Facebook users from Austria and elsewhere who had assigned him their claims will not be able to pool their resources in attacking the social networking behemoth.

The CJEU’s ruling will be more comforting for businesses, now less likely to face consumer class actions in some European countries, than was the last one that Schrems triggered in his legal actions against Facebook. Back in October 2015, it invalidated the EU-U.S. Safe Harbor Agreement protecting the transatlantic transfer of personal data, leaving many businesses in limbo until a new, stricter data transfer agreement was introduced.

“My fight shows that as an individual user you need a lot of energy and time to even just get a case before a court, but it also shows that a lot is possible, like the win over Safe Harbor,” Schrems said via email.

Schrems is looking forward to May this year when a new law, the General Data Protection Regulation, will introduce stricter data protection rules and allow consumers to take collective legal action across the EU to defend their right to privacy. He is board member of a new organization, NOYB -- European Center for digital Rights, that is seeking crowdfunding to take such actions.

“It is time that the fight for our fundamental rights is not a matter of an individual, but is based on a proper structure,” he said.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Peter Sayer

Peter Sayer

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Jack Jeffries


As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr


The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?