While most law students are shaking off the winter break and settling back in for the second semester, Max Schrems is busy doing his best to bring Facebook to its knees.
Last year, the 24-year-old University of Vienna law student spent a semester abroad at Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley. His privacy law professor there, Dorothy Glancy, invited a privacy lawyer from Facebook to be eaten alive by speak to the class. Schrems was shocked by the lawyer’s limited grasp of the severity of European data protection laws, and decided to write his final paper for the class on how Facebook was flunking privacy in Europe.
In the course of his research, he discovered that Facebook’s dossiers on individual users are hundreds of pages long, and include information users thought had been deleted. When he returned to Austria last summer, he formed an activist group called Europe v. Facebook (to legitimize his campaign and make it seem like more than just one law student), filed dozens of complaints in Europe about Facebook’s data practices, and publicized his findings online, leading to widespread media attention, a probe by a European privacy regulator, and questions from Congress.
On Monday, Facebook’s European director of policy (and former MP) Richard Allan and another California-based Facebook exec flew to Vienna to meet with Schrems for a whopping six hours to discuss his concerns.