(CN) – Europe’s highest court cleared the way Thursday for a privacy suit against Facebook, but it said the Austrian plaintiff cannot represent other users.
A doctoral candidate specializing in information-technology law and data-protection law, Maximilian Schrems initially used a false name when he opened a Facebook account in 2008.
In 2011 he created a Facebook page in his real name to apprise other users of his legal battle, but he still uses a private account — maintained in the Cyrillic alphabet to prevent searches of his name — for chatting with friends.
When Schrems began publicizing his claims of Facebook’s alleged data infringement, more than 25,000 people accepted an online invitation to assign him their claims for the same violations. Another 50,000 people were on the waitlist to assign Schrems their claims as of April 9, 2015.
Schrems has published two books just about this case. He gets paid to lecture on the topic and he has registered several blogs, online petitions and crowdfunding actions to support the case.
Austria’s Supreme Court asked the European Court of Justice to weigh in on whether Schrems could bring infringement claims on his own behalf as well as those of seven Facebook users domiciled in Austria, Germany and India.
Heeding the recommendation of a magistrate last year, the Luxemboug-Based court found Thursday that Schrems cannot invoke the consumer forum in Austria to assert his own claims as well as those assigned by other consumers.
Facebook also argued that Schrems had waived his personal status as a consumer by using his public page for professional activities such as lecturing and fundraising activities. These arguments failed, however, to sway the court.
“Neither the expertise which that person may acquire in the field covered by those services nor his assurances given for the purposes of representing the rights and interests of the users of those services can deprive him of the status of a ‘consumer,’” the ruling states.
“Indeed, an interpretation of the notion of ‘consumer’ which excluded such activities would have the effect of preventing an effective defense of the rights that consumers enjoy in relation to their contractual partners who are traders or professionals, including those rights which relate to the protection of their personal data,” the ruling continues. “Such an interpretation would disregard the objective set out in Article 169(1) TFEU [Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union] of promoting the right of consumers to organise themselves in order to safeguard their interests.”