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Facebook is about to be the subject of a new legal battle over its data protection policies and alleged violations of privacy as an Austrian privacy group plans to bring the case in an Irish court, according to RussiaToday

Europe vs. Facebook, the Austrian group, announced Tuesday that after a year of repeated requests and complaints to enforce the European data protection law, the company has failed to act. Now, the campaigner is planning to seek justice in court, appealing decisions by the data protection regulator in Ireland, where Facebook’s European headquarters is located.

“We have been pursing this for more than a year with Facebook, but the company has done only about 10 per cent of what we had asked them to do,” Max Schrems, the spokesman for Europe vs. Facebook was quoted as saying by The New York Times. “Therefore, we are preparing to go to court.”

The Austrian group previously won a petition forcing Facebook to turn off its facial recognition feature in Europe. In addition, Facebook now has to limit certain data sets’ retention periods and disclose how much data it has on individual users.

But despite filing 22 complaints to the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, the demands for more privacy are ”miles away from other European data protection authorities in its understanding of the law,” the group said in a statement.

After government probes into privacy issues, Europe vs. Facebook published a 70-page response to the audit, called a ”counter report,” which highlighted all the alleged violations of European law after a petition from the Irish Data Protection Commissioner.

Overall the paper discovered that the Irish authority had ”not always delivered accurate and correct results,” and the Austrian advocacy group wonders if “blind trust” in Facebook may have impeded the original audit, Schrems told

“We have to understand the position of the Irish authority,” the spokesman elaborated. “They had to deal with a whole armada of lawyers from Facebook. On the other hand we have a fundamental right to privacy and data protection in the EU. When it comes to basic freedoms and fundamental rights, our understanding for the situation of the authority comes to an end.”

Facebook claims that its European privacy policy is in compliance with European law and has been approved by the Irish authorities.

“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 in a statement.  “Nonetheless, we have some vocal critics who will never be happy whatever we do and whatever the D.P.C. concludes.” 

In order to win a potentially long legal battle, the group has started a crowd-funding platform to raise the €100,000 to €300,000 needed.

About 25 per cent of Facebook users are European, and one third of the company’s advertising revenue comes from Europe, making it a crucial market for the company.

In a related matter the Irish Data Protection Commissioner asked Europe vs. Facebook for a comment on the non-binding “audit”, which has been treating our complaints without our involvement. In summary it can be said that we are on the right track, but not at the final destination. 

The Irish authority has taken many important steps which moved privacy on Facebook forward, but when looked at it in more detail, has not always delivered solid and fact based results. Facebook’s statements were simply adopted, even though many of them can be disproven with a few screenshots. It seems like Facebook has also fooled the authority in some cases or did at least not stick to their promises.

None of our complaints are currently resolved, since many were just worked on superficially. We also had to find out that the Irish authority is not in line with the common legal understanding within the EU, expressed in the Article 29 Working Party’s opinions.

>> Full report (PDF)
>> Press release (PDF)



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