On 19 July, the European Court of Justice (CJEU) is holding a hearing about an Austrian collective action against Facebook. Max Schrems, the Austrian data protection campaigner, has brought a case to court in Austria on behalf of 25,000 Austrian and foreign consumers to claim compensation from Facebook for violation of their privacy rights.
In September of last year the Austrian Supreme Court asked the CJEU to decide about the admissibility of Max Schrems’ collective action. In particular the CJEU was asked to look into two points:
- Can a consumer bring assigned claims of other consumers to the court of his home country, even if these consumers live in other EU Member States and non-EU countries?
- Should Max Schrems, who initially used Facebook only for private purposes, be considered a ‘consumer’ and therefore be eligible to bring the case before the court where he lives (Vienna) or did he loose this right since he engaged into other activities at a later stage, for instance by taking a public position against the defendant (Facebook) and raising donations.
The hearing and forthcoming decision by the Court of Justice could have major impacts for EU consumers. It is often the case that collective enforcement of consumer rights strand on procedural grounds. The CJEU is also entering unchartered territory when it comes to the jurisdiction of international collective actions. If the court would follow the argumentation of Max Schrems it would become easier for a large group of consumers to be represented in the country of one single consumer. This would be a big step towards access to justice for consumers in cases where companies use the same illegal practices across the EU.