Class Action Lawsuit Over Facebook Biometrics to Proceed

Facebook is going to have to face a class action lawsuit over the alleged misuse of its facial recognition technology, a US District judge has ruled.

The legal challenge is years old at this point, having taken shape in the spring of 2015. It revolves around Facebook’s ‘tag suggestions’ feature, which uses face biometrics to identify individuals in user photos that have been uploaded to the social media platform. The feature is alleged to infringe upon Illinois law, with the state being one of only a select few that have established privacy protections for citizens’ biometric data.

Facebook’s immediate response was to have the case transferred to California, the state of its headquarters, as per its user agreement. There, the company was able to argue that Illinois law didn’t apply. But for US District Judge James Donato, it was an argument that fell flat: In the spring of 2016, he rejected Facebook’s request to have the case dismissed on these grounds, writing that “Illinois will suffer a complete negation of its biometric privacy protections for its citizens if California law is applied.”

This same judge has now certified a class of Facebook users who can be represented in the lawsuit, asserting that any Illinois users on whom Facebook’s facial recognition technology was used since the ‘tag suggestions’ feature was introduced in 2011 will be entitled to compensation if Facebook loses the class action suit. And that paves the way for the class action lawsuit to proceed.

The ruling couldn’t come at a worse time for Facebook, which has faced intense scrutiny over its handling – or mishandling – of user data since the revelations of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg having undergone two days of questioning from US legislators last week. That could hint at how this lawsuit is going to play out going forward.

Sources: BBC News, NPR

April 17, 2018 – by Alex Perala