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Three years ago, a group of EU consumer agencies launched a cross-border lawsuit against Facebook, accusing the social media giant of illegally harvesting data from millions of users.
More than 300,000 disgruntled Facebook users positioned themselves behind the class action lawsuit that promised to award them individual monetary damages if the company is found guilty of misconduct.
On Friday, those lawsuits quietly morphed into a brand new partnership with Facebook.
Euroconsumers, the umbrella organization behind the Spanish, Italian, Belgian and Portuguese lawsuits, announced that they are entering into a partnership with the company that will focus on the “security and privacy” of Facebook users.
The move comes after POLITICO reported that Euroconsumers settled its lawsuit with Facebook in late April – underscoring the fact that class actions rarely cross the finish line in Europe, protecting companies from the kind of lawsuits that can lead to crippling damage in US courts, while consumers have few remedies available.
Originally, Euroconsumers had told people who had joined the case that they would ask for € 200 in compensation for any Facebook user whose data was mishandled.
In the end, however, there will be no court ruling, no admission of wrongdoing by Facebook, and no direct payment from the company to consumers as a result of the settlement, according to Euroconsumers.
Instead, the consumer groups and Facebook said they are forming a joint committee that will focus on three priorities: sustainability, digital empowerment and fighting fraud. The issue of privacy – which was explicitly at the center of the lawsuit – is the “umbrella” under which the three priorities fall.
Consumers are promised a vague consolation prize.
The four consumer groups said they would commit to “rewarding” consumers who joined the original lawsuit with “a package” that will help consumers stay safe online – but not cash.
When asked whether Facebook paid money to euro consumers as part of the settlement, the group declined to comment. POLITICO reached out to Facebook, but the company did not provide an immediate response other than the press release.
Meanwhile, the committee is under no obligation to produce any concrete results.
“There are concrete initiatives, but there will also be a channel for consumer reporting. We will be able to report problems that arise, such as:
A spokesman for the group said, “The time is now to try to influence the arguments of companies that are run far away.”
Legally, however, the heat is off Facebook.
The consumer groups will evaluate their cooperation in three years.
“A one-year contract would be too short. Three years is long enough for an assessment to be made. Much will change in the digital world during this period, ”added the spokesman.
In the meantime, a change in the law could give more weight to future class actions in Europe: a directive passed late last year could lead to larger class actions across Europe.
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