Facebook Fights Lawsuit Based on Facial Recognition Data Collection

In 2015, a group of Facebook users in Illinois brought a class action lawsuit against the company based on the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act. The lawsuit argues that Facebook violated this law by gathering and storing the biometric data of its users. This happens when Facebook automatically collects and identifies people who appear in photos posted on Facebook. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco recently decided that the lawsuit can proceed.

In a unanimous opinion, the panel of judges wrote that developing face template using facial recognition technology without consent is an invasion of privacy. Thus, it may form the basis of a legal claim.

Facebook uses this information to understand the preferences of users as individuals and as groups. Certifying and verifying their identities allows Facebook to target ads and services more effectively. It does not sell facial recognition data to third parties. However, Facebook allows third parties to use data for research purposes and to develop services targeted toward its users.

Facebook will appeal the decision, but currently the case will return to the federal court in San Francisco and proceed toward a potential trial. About seven million Facebook users may be included, which means that Facebook could face billions of dollars in damages. Each violation of privacy under the Illinois law can result in up to $1,000 in damages, or up to $5,000 if the violation was intentional. Facebook also is facing a fine of $5 billion levied by the federal government after Facebook violated an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission regarding its use of private data. However, the Justice Department has not yet approved that fine.

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