The world’s largest legal battle against Facebook began with a class assignment. Student Max Schrems still hasn’t turned in his university paper on the topic, due well over a year ago, but he has already accomplished something bigger: forcing Facebook to alter its approach to user privacy. Now, Schrems wants cash—hundreds of thousands of euros—to launch the next phase of his campaign, a multi-year legal battle that might significantly redefine how Facebook controls the personal data on over one billion people worldwide.
“If we get €300,000 ($384,000), we can shoot from all cannons,” the 25-year-old told Ars from his parents’ home in Salzburg, Austria.
What began as an academic assignment in spring 2011 quickly morphed into an advocacy organization called “Europe vs. Facebook.” Over the last year, Schrems has encouraged tens of thousands of Facebook users worldwide to request copies of whatever data Facebook holds on each of them, as he has done. Under European Union law, Facebook is required to comply with these requests within 40 days, since its international (e.g., non-American) headquarters are in Ireland (largely for tax reasons). This means that all Facebook users outside the United States and Canada (which have their own, less-stringent privacy rules) are effectively governed by Irish and EU data protection authorities.