How A Single Student Is Transforming Facebook's Privacy Policy In Europe

To most people that know him, Max Schrems is a typical law student from Austria. To Facebook, he is a massive pain in the arse. Outsmarting their attorneys, bombarding them with legal complaints and forming activist groups, he plans to transform Facebook's privacy policy in Europe.

While Schrems was a visiting student at Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley, he was shocked by a Facebook lawyer's grasp of the severity of data protection laws in Europe. As a result, he wrote a thesis about Facebook's misunderstanding of privacy law in the EU, unearthing all kinds of violations -- data protection is much more strict across the pond in Europe. Speaking to Forbes, Schrems said:

"Having a headquarters in Europe makes Facebook vulnerable... That means all of its European users have contracts with that Dublin office and makes the company subject to Ireland's strict privacy law."

Since finishing his thesis, he's formed an activist group called Europe v. Facebook, publicized his findings online, bombarded Facebook with complaints and prompted Congress to question the social media site.

In fact, he's been so much of a pain in the arse that Facebook agreed to meet with him. On Monday, Facebook's European director of policy, Richard Allan, and another unidentified California-based Facebook exec flew to Vienna to meet Schrems. But this wasn't a short, brush-off of a meeting: this was a gruelling six-hour legal slog.

Schrems and his activist group have released a statement about the meeting, which they say allowed them to clarify Facebook's position on much of its European privacy policy. Schrems isn't satisfied:

"We are even more confident that Facebook is in many ways re-interpreting that law in ways that are not stringent or compliant with the case law by the European Court of Justice."

Schrems is insistent that Facebook's policy of ‘assumed consent' shouldn't be allowed, and that it should run the site on an opt-out, rather than opt-in, basis. The fact that Facebook was willing to give up six hours to Schrems' concerns, and has agreed to research issues raised in the meeting and forward on their data, suggests that they're taking him seriously. How far can one man go? [Forbes and ZDNet; Image: Getty]



    Suing as a solution to problems, its Steve Jobs reincarnated. Damn you Buddhism!

    Wouldn't that be "opt-in rather than opt-out"? I thought that would mean you would have to consciously accept something happening rather than searching for and engaging a means to stop something. Or maybe I'm getting them confused..

      I was thinking the same thing

      They are saying that you should need to "opt-IN" to whatever shenanigans FB are playing at.
      You should not have to "Opt-out". You should already be "out" by default.
      As it currently stands you (your data) are considered "opted-IN" unless you specifically know to opt out.
      In other words, unless you know that you need to specifically ask for privacy, FB is assuming you don't want any at all.
      This is the wrong way to go about things as Schrems is saying.
      Hope this helps.

        Yep totally agree. I remember recently when LinkedIn did an update, they selected "Opt-In" as the default setting for some privacy related matter, and you wouldnt have known it was there unless you came across it accidentally or had read about it on a tech-blog (which is the way I found out). Thats real shifty imo and all such options should be opt-out by default leaving the user to decide whether they want to enable it or leave it as is.

    Surprised a law student would even want to use facebook in the first place!

    You reckon that FB in Europe doesn't understand the local privacy laws? I don' t buy it for one second.

    You reckon that FB in Europe care about the local privacy laws? I don’ t buy it for one second.

    You reckon that FB in "place name" care about the "any level of" privacy laws? I don’ t buy it for one second.

    You reckon that FB care? I don't buy it for one second.

    I support Schrems, where can I join his group or 'Like' his page.

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