Facebook is courting controversy once again as the social networking site battles 60,000 users in Europe for alleged privacy violations.

Facebook may have to shell out over $16.5 million in damages thanks to the class action lawsuit (limited to 25,000 participants even though 60,000 have signed up) filed by plaintiff Max Schrems, an Austrian law student, and Europe Versus Facebook. Schrems is claiming 500 euros (approximately $663) per user in damages, which comes to $16,577,438 for the 25,000 participants.

The suit was filed at the Vienna Regional Court, and now Facebook Ireland has been given four weeks to respond. In the event Facebook fails to respond in the given time period, the court may still pass a judgment in its absence.

"The Vienna Regional Court has reviewed the class action against Facebook Ireland," wrote Schrems in a statement. "After the 'a limine' review was passed, the Court now ordered Facebook Ireland to respond within four weeks. The order is very likely on the way to Facebook."

The allegations against Facebook pertaining to privacy and data use per the class action suit are as follows:

  •  Tracking users on external websites with the aid of its like buttons.
  •  Supporting NSA's "PRISM" surveillance program.
  •  The "unlawful introduction" of Graph Search.
  •  Monitoring and analyzing user activity via "big data" systems.
  •  Data use policy which is non-compliant with EU laws.
  •  "Absence of effective consent to many types of data use."

Of the 25,000 Facebook users who have assigned their claims to Schrem, a majority hail from Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Finland and the UK. Additionally, 35,000 more users have registered online on www.fbclaim.com for assigning their claims.

Facebook has nearly 1.32 billion users worldwide and is valued at nearly $200 billion. The social networking site has frequently been criticized for its disdain toward user privacy. Dubbed "David and Goliath lawsuit," the current lawsuit has the potential to become the biggest class and privacy action suit ever in Europe.

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