Student’s privacy battle against Facebook suffers setback

An Austrian student’s legal battle against Facebook, accusing it of helping the US security service collect personal data, suffered a setback after a Vienna court rejected his case on procedural grounds, both sides said yesterday.

The social media giant hailed the ruling, saying it showed the class-action lawsuit was unnecessary, as it defended its record on guarding customers’ privacy.

However, 27-year-old Max Schrems said he would appeal against the decision and keep going, as the court had not killed off the case entirely, but referred it on to a higher tribunal.

Facebook’s European headquarters is in Ireland.

The law student claims €500 in damages for each of more than 25,000 signatories to his lawsuit, the latest in a series of European challenges to US technology firms and their handling of personal data.

Facebook’s lawyer presented a long list of procedural objections to the Vienna court in April, questioning Schrems’ status as a private Facebook consumer and whether the 25,000 plaintiffs were legally allowed to confer their rights on Schrems.

The court rejected the suit on Monday, saying Schrems had not used Facebook merely as a private consumer, but also for commercial promotions of his publications, a court spokeswoman said, adding a higher Austrian court might decide differently.

“Unfortunately, it seems as if the court wanted to forward this hot potato to the higher courts,” Schrems’ lawyer Wolfram Proksch said in a statement.

Schrems accuses Facebook of helping the US National Security Agency mine customers’ personal data. He told Reuters he only got details of the ruling late on Tuesday.

A spokesman for Facebook said. “We remain happy to work with our regulator, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, to address any questions about our commitment to protecting people’s information.”

Schrems also has a case pending at the European Court of Justice by crowdsourcing, which mainly relates to the so-called Safe Harbor agreement governing data transfers from Europe to the US.

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