Europe vs. Facebook

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URL = http://europe-v-facebook.org/EN/en.html

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KEVIN J. O’BRIEN:

"An Austrian student group said Tuesday that it planned to challenge Facebook’s privacy policies in Irish court, alleging that the social networking giant had failed, despite repeated requests and formal complaints made by its members, to adapt to the restrictions of European data protection law.

The group, which calls itself Europe vs. Facebook, said it would begin collecting donations to challenge the policy in Ireland, where the company’s European business is incorporated. Max Schrems, an Austrian law student at the University of Vienna who organized the effort, said Facebook had no interest in adapting its service to meet stricter European privacy requirements.

“We have been pursing this for more than a year with Facebook, but the company has done only about 10 percent of what we had asked them to do,” said Mr. Schrems, 25. “Therefore, we are preparing to go to court.”

Facebook, in a statement, said its European privacy policy had been vetted and approved by Irish regulators and was in compliance with European law.

“The way Facebook Ireland handles personal data has been subject to thorough review by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner over the past year,” the company said. “Nonetheless, we have some vocal critics who will never be happy whatever we do and whatever the D.P.C. concludes.”

Mr. Schrems’s group, which he said was made up of about 10 students at the University of Vienna, filed 22 complaints in 2010 with the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner in Ireland, which regulates Facebook’s European business because it is incorporated there.

As a result of those complaints, the regulator conducted a public audit of Facebook’s privacy policies. In September it announced an agreement with the company that required, among other changes, that Facebook shorten the time it retained consumer data and refrain from building a photo archive on individuals without their prior consent.

But Mr. Schrems said in an interview that Facebook was still violating European law in many areas, including a requirement that Facebook provide users who request it with a full copy of all the data the company has collected on them. Mr. Schrems, a Facebook user since 2007, said he requested his own summary file from Facebook in 2010.

The company, whose global headquarters is in Menlo Park, California, responded by creating a self-service tool for users to extract the data, which Mr. Schrems said supplied him only with information going back to 2010. In addition, he alleged that Facebook’s privacy policy, which users are required to agree to before they can use the service, is too broad and violates European law.

“It is basically a collection of American legalese, which is intentionally vague and gives the company adequate leeway to do basically anything they want with your data,” Mr. Schrems said.

Thilo Weichert, the data protection supervisor for the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, which has also brought legal action against Facebook, said he supported the Austrian student group’s efforts. " (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/05/technology/austrian-group-plans-court-challenge-to-facebooks-privacy-policies.html)


Discussion

Ryan Tate:

"To level the playing field against global internet powerhouse Facebook, a persistent group of Austrian law students have a crowdfunding website.

The site, crowd4privacy.org, is where the group hopes to raise €100,000 to €300,000 to wage legal war against Facebook in Ireland, where the social network keeps its international headquarters. The group, Europe vs. Facebook, has been hounding Facebook to comply with European privacy laws for more than two years.

With some success: Earlier this year, Facebook agreed to yield to some of the 22 complaints Europe vs. Facebook filed in 2010 with the Office of the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, including retaining user data for a shorter period of time. But Europe vs. Facebook says the changes do not go far enough. Group leader and University of Vienna law student Max Schrems told the New York Times that Facebook “has done only about 10 percent of what we had asked them to do.” For example, Facebook’s privacy policy is still too vague to comply with European law, Schrems said.

Hence the crowdfunding site, an attempt to use the very dynamics that helped make Facebook successful — online socializing, global interconnectedness, and e-commerce — against Facebook. The court action to be funded by crowd4privacy.org will try and force the Irish Data Protection Commissioner to be harder on Facebook and to win more concessions from the company – effectively, to bring Facebook into compliance with European law, says Europe vs. Facebook. But there’s a long way to go: At the moment, crowd4privacy.org has raised just €8,360 toward the minimum €100,000." (http://www.wired.com/business/2012/12/facebook-v-europe-crowdfunding/)

Crowd4privacy is at https://www.crowd4privacy.org/


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