One Man’s War Against Facebook on the European Front

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Max Schrems is a 24-year-old law student from Vienna who is hell-bent on changing the rules Facebook plays by. As a visiting student in California last semester, he was puzzled by a class visit from a Facebook representative, whose ideas of European privacy laws were very different than Schrems's own understanding. Since then, he's filed 22 complaints against Facebook Ireland Limited, the subsidiary that oversees European users of the social network, for everything from poking to tagging to facial recognition. He's also started a group called Europe Versus Facebook, which fights for users to obtain more power over their own information. For example, did you know that the Facebook "Like" button gathers user information, not just every time you click it, but every time you end up on a page that contains the button at all? That cookie then associates the page with all the others you've visited over the last three months.

"The first problem is the lack of transparency," Schrems told us via e-mail today. "The second problem is the lack of user control. We deposit our data at Facebook, but we cannot to efficiently control what is happening to them." Even if you're deleting things from your profile, they're still keeping the information, he contends, and so you're "actually just hiding it from yourself."

Although his movement is based in Europe, Schrems says that if he's successful, Facebook will be forced to implement changes worldwide, "so it is very likely that U.S. residents will get more rights too." Schrems also has an eye on Google+, although he has no legal rights to file complaints against them in Europe.

Like most twentysomethings, though, Schrems is also insistent that he's a fan of the services provided. "I think that social networking is a pretty cool thing, so I don't see why I should limit myself just because Facebook is not following the laws," he said. Plus, he added, "Facebook has a monopoly on our friends."

Check out Schrems's story in the video below (using the "CC" button for English subtitles):

24 year old student lights match: Europe versus Facebook [IdentityBlog via Shneier]