Three Illinois law firms have reached a record-breaking settlement with Facebook in a class-action lawsuit that concerns the tech giant’s alleged violations of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). According to the terms of the settlement, Facebook must set aside a $550 million cash fund for the plaintiffs, whose facial biometrics were scanned without their consent when the company introduced its “tag suggestions” feature.
The settlement concludes a five-year legal process that began when the original lawsuit was filed in 2015. Facebook later had the lawsuit transferred from Illinois to its home state of California in an effort to get the lawsuit dismissed, but that motion was ultimately rejected by Northern California District Court Judge James Donato, who presided over the case.
Judge Donato would later certify a class of Illinois Facebook users as plaintiffs in the case. That decision was reaffirmed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, clearing the way for a potential trial. However, the two sides obviously came to terms before the case reached that point. The plaintiffs credited former Barack Obama Special Counsel Jeff Bleich for helping to mediate the case and bring everyone to an agreement.
The law firms representing the plaintiffs were Edelson PC, Labaton Sucharow LLP, and Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd, LLP. All three firms had filed independent BIPA lawsuits, but their cases were eventually consolidated as part of the ongoing legal action. The settlement is the largest of its kind in a privacy lawsuit, though it still needs final approval from Judge Donato.
Assuming that everything goes through, the settlement will establish an important precedent with regards to privacy. It will demonstrate that BIPA actually has some teeth, and that the many companies that have run afoul of the law will need to be more careful with people’s personal information if they want to avoid a hefty monetary penalty.
“Illinois enacted a statute not to thwart innovation, but to protect individuals’ privacy,” said Labaton Sucharow Head of Consumer Cybersecurity Michael Canty. “As technology advances, corporations must be mindful of the privacy of their customers and comply with the law.”
“Biometrics is one of the two primary battlegrounds, along with geolocation, that will define our privacy rights for the next generation,” added Edelson PC’s Jay Edelson. “We hope that other companies will follow Facebook’s lead and pay significant attention to the importance of our biometric information.”
January 30, 2020 – by Eric Weiss