Facebook loses in first round of class-action lawsuit over facial recognition features

Social networking giant Facebook has lost the first round in a court fight against some plaintiffs’ who claim that it has “unlawfully” collected and stored users’ biometric data derived from their faces in photographs.

Biometric data is information about your physical characteristics, and it’s mainly used by tech companies as a form of identification.

On Thursday, a federal court in San Francisco ruled that Illinois biometric privacy laws trump California laws, even if users have signed a terms of use agreement that states California laws would apply. The ruling may set a precedent that Illinois strict biometric privacy laws could override other state laws, a possibly significant issue as facial recognition becomes more pervasive in its use by Facebook and other tech titans

Facebook filed the motion arguing that the users could not file a complaint under Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) as they had agreed in their user agreement that California law would govern their disputes with the company, and that BIPA does not apply to “tag suggestions.”

The court found that Illinois law applies and that the plaintiffs have stated a claim under BIPA.

The plaintiffs claim that Facebook didn’t obtain their proper consent to store facial data, which is used to identify users in pictures so they can be ‘tagged’ more easily by their friends, in violation of the Illinois BIPA.

The ‘tag suggestions’ feature is available in the US, but was removed in the EU in 2012 after privacy regulators raised objections.

Facebook argued for the case to be thrown out, claiming the plaintiffs had agreed for their legal dealings with the company to be governed by California law when they signed up to Facebook’s user agreement. It also claimed BIPA does not apply to the ‘tag suggestions’ feature.

However, the court ruled that Illinois law still applies, and said the BIPA claim can go ahead.

District Judge James Donato in his ruling said: “The Court accepts as true plaintiffs’ allegations that Facebook’s face recognition technology involves a scan of face geometry that was done without plaintiffs’ consent.”

The court order showed that the case was filed by some Illinois residents under Illinois law, but the parties agreed to transfer the case to the California court.

Facebook was also hit with a lawsuit over its plan to issue new stock last month. The social media giant was not immediately available for comment.