Facebook Sued Over Biometric Data Collection and Storage

Facial Recognition

An Illinois man’s lawsuit against Facebook, first reported in a Chicago Tribune article by Tony Briscoe, has now turned into a class action lawsuit, according to Courthouse News Service‘s Lisa Klein. Carlo Licata, of Cook County, claims in his lawsuit that by collecting and storing his biometric data without his consent, Facebook has violated state law.

The suit revolves around Facebook’s “tag suggestions” feature, which uses facial biometrics to match faces in new user photos to others where those individuals have already been identified. While Facebook allows users to change their privacy settings to stop themselves from being tagged in photos, Mr. Licata’s lawsuit alleges that it is the collection and storage of the data itself that is the problem. He says he never gave Facebook permission to do that, and moreover he alleges that the company “actively conceals” its collection of biometric data, and “doesn’t disclose its wholesale biometrics data collection practices in its privacy policies, nor does it even ask users to acknowledge them.” This, he says, is a violation of the Illinois Biometrics Information Privacy Act.

Licata has suggested that one of his main concerns is the risk of a data breach, noting that the Federal Trade Commission has expressed concern about the threat of a “third party maliciously breaching a database of biometric information,” with the consequence that “once exposed, a victim has no recourse to prevent becoming victim to misconduct like identity theft and unauthorized tracking.” For its part, Facebook has insisted to the FTC, via Facebook privacy manager Robert Sherman, that user data is secure, and that since it can only be managed by Facebook’s own faceprint database technology, “alone, the templates are useless bits of data.” Sherman added that users have the option of opting out of the service, in which case their data will be deleted.

Still, there is perhaps good reason to take this with a grain of salt, as Facebook’s unquenchable thirst for user data is well known. The company’s acquisition of a speech recognition company last month immediately prompted speculation that it would use that technology to surveil its users, while its DeepFace facial recognition feature started appearing around the world that same month but not, notably, in the European Union, where strict privacy laws are often enforced. The new lawsuit could be seen as almost inevitable, given the ongoing and pervasive tension between the collection of biometric data and privacy concerns; as society continues to navigate this new techno-social fault line, a lot of eyes will be watching to see how this lawsuit plays out.

April 7, 2015 – by Alex Perala