Facebook (illustration)
Facebook (illustration)iStock

Austrian privacy activist Max Schrems filed a lawsuit the European Union (EU) Court of Justice against social media giant Facebook for violations of users' privacy rights.

Schrems seeks 500 euros ($576) for each of the 25,000 signatories to his lawsuit.

The petitioners claim that Facebook violated their their privacy by using the personal data of users and tracking them even during their uses of websites other than Facebook.

Schrems is seeking to have his lawsuit treated as a class action lawsuit so that his fellow signatories will not have to file 25,000 individual lawsuits against the social media giant. He said that the filing of 25,000 lawsuits would be an "impossible" financial burden on the plaintiffs and lead to inefficiency in the handling of the thousands of cases.

"If privacy claims cannot be grouped, they (Facebook) can get away with violating the law," Schrems said in a statement.

While class-action lawsuits are common in the United States, they are not recognized in Europe.

Schrems is a well-known online privacy advocate. He first filed a lawsuit against Facebook for privacy violations in 2014. His suit was directed at Facebook Ireland Ltd, the subsidiary which provides services to 80% of Facebook's users around the world.

25,000 users have since joined their claims against Facebook to Schrems' claims. However, the suit is still treated as a case between two parties.

Facebook contends that Schrems' status as an activist means that he cannot be considered a 'consumer' who can represent other consumers

A Facebook spokesperson said: "Mr. Schrems' claims have twice been rejected on the grounds that they cannot proceed as 'class action' on behalf of other consumers in Austrian courts. We were pleased to be able to present to the CJEU and look forward to resolving these claims."

The Austrian Supreme Court referred two questions in the case to the European court. One of the questions was whether Schrems could be considered a consumer after publishing books and delivering lectures on the subject. The second question was whether the court could hear the case when it involves users who live outside Austria and Europe.

Facebook has faced other high-profile lawsuits before. This year the families of American victims of terrorism in Israel sued the social media giant over its failure to remove incitement for $1 billion. The case was dismissed when the court determined that Facebook was not liable for comments posted by users on its website.

A German court also found that Facebook was not responsible for removing incitement to violence from its website this past March.

Israel's attorney general ruled that Facebook could be sued in Israel, despite Facebook's terms of usage that allow it to be sued only in California.