Facebook Faces $35B in Facial Recognition Lawsuit

John Lister's picture

Facebook is set to face a $35 billion class action lawsuit over claims it used facial recognition tools without permission. The case will proceed despite Facebook's protest that no one suffered direct financial losses.

The case is taking place in Illinois, where three individual lawsuits from 2015 were combined into a single class action case. It's based on Facebook using automated recognition on uploaded photographs.

The way it works is like this: let's say that Bob uploads a photograph to Facebook, which also includes his friend Alice. After the upload is complete, Facebook scans the photograph for faces and compare it to its existing database. If Alice is also on Facebook, the software may recognize her and automatically suggest Bob "tag" her in the photo. The picture will then be associated with her account as well as Bob's.

Prior Permission in Question

According to the plaintiffs, the problem is with the way Facebook automatically opted-in users into using the technology. Specifically, facial recognition violates the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, which states that businesses must get consent before collecting or using biometric data.

The lawsuit also says Facebook didn't properly inform users of how long it would store facial recognition. The plaintiffs also fear that if Facebook suffered a data breach, the information about their faces could be misused to unlock devices or spot them on security footage.

Facebook had argued that the case was invalid because there was no evidence the plaintiffs had suffered measurable financial losses from the alleged infractions. That argument was rejected by a local court.

Now, an appeals court has refused to reopen the issue.

Possible Penalties Severe

Unless Facebook decides to take the matter to the Supreme Court (and the case is both heard and settled in its favor), the class action case will go to trial.

The maximum penalty for breaching the law is $5,000 for each violation, which could get very painful given an estimated 7 million people in Illinois use Facebook. (Source: arstechnica.com)

Facebook denies breaching the law. It also says it fully informed users about the technology, while providing adequate control over their data use. (Source: techcrunch.com)

What's Your Opinion?

Do you find the facial recognition useful for these purposes? Should Facebook get prior permission from users before scanning and storing facial recognition data? Is there a serious risk of such data being misused?

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matt_2058's picture

Yes, yes, & yes.

Consent is probably buried in the 57pg user agreement that everyone just clicks "I agree" for.

Do we really need to count the ways the data can be misused? In a time when LEOs look up ex's new love in the DMV database? When a nurse accesses a medical record of a coworker or neighbor?

almonious_12843's picture

The major issue is Facebook doing whatever it wants, thinking they are too big to fail. FB, Google et al have become a state onto themselves, declaring openly they want to influence elections and opinions. They have become a danger to democracies everywhere. Bell was broken to pieces for far less, as should be done now, with these arrogant cooperations.