By Robert-Jan Bartunek
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - An Austrian law student cannot bring a class action suit against Facebook's Irish unit over alleged privacy violations in an Austrian court, an EU court adviser said on Tuesday, but can sue the company in his home country on his own behalf.
Arguing Facebook violated privacy rules, Max Schrems is claiming 500 euros ($576) in damages for each of some 25,000 signatories to his lawsuit, one of a series of European challenges to U.S. technology firms and their handling of personal data.
"A consumer who is entitled to sue his foreign contact partner in his own place of domicile, cannot invoke, at the same time as his own claims, claims on the same subject assigned by other consumers," the EU top court's Advocate General Michal Bobek said.
The advocate general, whose opinions are not binding but usually followed by the court, said allowing a class action suit in this case would lead consumers to choose the place of the most favorable court.
Privacy activist Schrems, who had argued that individual lawsuits on user privacy would be "impossible" due to the financial burden on users, said a ruling in line with the advocate general's opinion would still allow him to set a precedent.
"In the advocate general's view, I can at least bring a 'model case' at my home jurisdiction in Vienna, which may enable us to debate the illegal practices of Facebook in an open court for the first time," Schrems said in a statement.
Facebook said the advocate general's opinion supported the decision of two courts that Schrem's claims could not proceed as a class action.
While common in the United States, class action suits are rarely recognized in Europe.
"It is not for the Court to create such collective redress in consumer matters, but eventually for the Union legislator," the Advocate General said.
(Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek in Brussels; additional reporting by Shadia Nasralla in Vienna; editing by Philip Blenkinsop and John Stonestreet)