Max Schrems: The Austrian law graduate who became a champion of Facebook users

Mr Schrems has played a key role in a landmark EU ruling on the Safe Harbour scheme

Tim Walker
Tuesday 06 October 2015 20:04 BST
Max Schrems (left) and his lawyer Herwig Hofmann, at the European Court of Justice
Max Schrems (left) and his lawyer Herwig Hofmann, at the European Court of Justice (AP)

Max Schrems first heard about Safe Harbour in 2013, when he was a law graduate in Austria and Edward Snowden was on the run in Hong Kong, having blown the whistle on (among other things) Facebook being forced to share their EU user data with the NSA.

Mr Schrems was already a sharp pain in the social networking giant’s behind. In 2011, while on a study abroad programme at Santa Clara University in California’s Silicon Valley, he attended a lecture by Facebook’s privacy lawyer. The lawyer, Mr Schrems claimed, had little awareness of data protection laws across the Atlantic. He wrote a college essay about Facebook’s failure to comprehend European privacy restrictions. Meanwhile, he demanded the firm send him all of his own personal Facebook data.

Mr Schrems had held a Facebook account for three years, and was astounded to receive a CD containing 1,200 pages of information on his online activity. The documents included everyone he had ever “friended” or “de-friended”, all of his personal messages – including those deleted – and a record of every event he had ever attended. In an interview with Forbes, he compared the files to those kept on East German citizens by the Stasi.

Back in Europe, Mr Schrems founded a campaign group, Europe vs Facebook, and published a redacted version of the records online. In the weeks after they appeared on Reddit, Facebook received more than 40,000 data-access requests from users. Mr Schrems filed 22 complaints about Facebook’s privacy practices with the Irish Data Protection Commissioner in Dublin, where Facebook and several other major internet firms have their European headquarters.

Mr Schrems was born in Salzburg in October 1987. He now considers himself a champion for the majority of Facebook users, unaware of the rules surrounding their own privacy.

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