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Facebook privacy law suit limited to 25,000 complainants after campaigner was overwhelmed with requests

A campaigner is accusing Facebook of breaching data protection laws
  • @kashmiragander

A lawyer planning to sue Facebook in a class action over online privacy has limited the number of plaintiffs to 25,000 after he was overwhelmed with support.

Campaigner and lawyer Max Schrems has accused Facebook Ireland – the Irish subsidiary of the website - of breaching European data laws, and violating users’ rights by tracking internet activity on external sites, including the use of “like” buttons.

The lawsuit, organised via Mr Schrem's Europe-V-Facebook.org, also questions how Facebook analyses users through what it calls “big data” systems. Mr Schrems claims the company supports the US secret service’s Prism surveillance exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The law suit, which is being launched against the New York-listed 1.3 billion user-strong social media giant, could be the largest class and privacy action ever taken.

Mr Schrems is restricting the case to 25,000 people so each Facebook account can be verified. But he will continue to register the information of users who wish to join the action, who will be prioritised if the claim is expanded.

Up to 7,000 users a day from more than 100 countries have registered their support for Schrems's David v Goliath legal challenge, which will take place in Austrian courts.

Mr Schrems hopes to claim damages of €500 euros (£397) per supporter.

Last Friday, the number of people signing up peaked as a new user joined every six seconds.

Max Schrems begins petition against Facebook

“We have hoped for large support, but the number of participants in such a short time exceeded my most optimistic expectations,” he said.

Most plaintiffs are from Germany, where 5,287 Facebook users have signed up, while 944 users are based in the UK and only 162 from Ireland - as of 9am on Wednesday.

Support for the campaign is also strong in Austria, with 3,712 users, the Netherlands, with 2,438, Finland, with 1,179, and Croatia with 1,106.

Facebook has several weeks to respond to Mr Schrems's claims.

An earlier landmark battle launched in Ireland to find out what Facebook tells US spy chiefs was referred to the European Court of Justice by a judge in Dublin last month.

Additional reporting by agencies