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Facebook in hot water for privacy

Thursday, 12 March 2015 | By Vanessa Emilio

Facebook’s new privacy policy went into effect on January 1, 2015.


A European Union (EU) task force comprised of data protection authorities was formed in February 2015 to look into Facebook’s new privacy policy. There is doubt about the legality of Facebook’s new privacy policy.


Among other items, there is scepticism around Facebook’s sharing of personal information with its affiliates as being ‘only for security purposes’ and the legality of Facebook selling the private details of users to businesses for advertising.


In the meantime, Austria has launched the largest privacy class action suit in Europe against Facebook alleging violation of European privacy laws. The class action started with 25,000 claimants joining in the first six days and more than 75,000 now applying. The numbers are growing daily. They are arguing everything from illegal collection and forwarding of user data, surveillance of its users via ‘apps’ and ‘likes’ to an invalid privacy policy.


Up until now, Facebook has used delay tactics to try to avoid the lawsuit: including arguing it is not a valid lawsuit under Irish law (they are headquartered there) and refusing service of the German version of the lawsuit.


Now, Facebook will have to face an EU court on April 9.


What are the possible consequences for Facebook?


The Austrian claimants are requesting a suspension of data usage by Facebook as it violates European privacy laws. They are also asking for a nominal compensation of 500 euros ($A693) per claimant.


The cost would not be the largest problem for Facebook as the EU court could declare its questionable business practices illegal under European law and stop them from doing business until they change their business model. There is a strong prediction that this last outcome has a good chance of success due to the strict privacy laws in Europe.


What does Australia think about it?


Australia takes privacy very seriously, in particular with respect to social media.


Last month, a woman’s ex-boyfriend posted sexually explicit images and videos on Facebook after their relationship had ended. She was awarded damages for serious invasions of privacy which normally is not available unless financial loss is proven.


The Australian Law Reform Commission (‘ALRC’) has made submissions to change the privacy laws to ensure financial awards are available for such invasions of privacy and emotional distress.


The ALRC are watching the outcomes of this privacy issue in Europe closely. So watch out for new privacy reforms later this year in Australia.


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