Facebook to face class action suit over its facial recognition tool

Facebook must face a class action lawsuit over its unlawful use of facial recognition technology on photos without user permission, a U.S. federal judge in California ruled on Monday.

According to the lawsuit, Facebook violated an Illinois state law by incorrectly using photo-scanning and face recognition technologies on users’ uploaded photographs and gathered biometric information without their explicit consent.

The case dates back to 2015, where three Illinois residents, Nimesh Patel, Adam Pezen, and Carlo Licata had sued Facebook for violating a state privacy law on protecting biometric privacy.

U.S. Judge James Donato in his ruling on Monday said the claims by the three plaintiffs were “sufficiently cohesive to allow for a fair and efficient resolution on a class basis.

The judge also noted that there is enough proof to show that Facebook violated the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), passed in 2008, which prevents companies from collecting and storing the biometric data of people without their consent.

Under the Illinois Act, Facebook can be fined $1,000 to $5,000 each time the company’s “Tag Suggestions” feature was used on a person’s image without permission. Tag Suggestions is a feature that recommends people to tag after a Facebook user uploads a photo.



“Consequently, the case will proceed with a class consisting of Facebook users located in Illinois for whom Facebook created and stored a face template after June 7, 2011,” he said, according to the ruling.

However, according to Facebook, the photo tagging tool provides the option to users to turn the feature off and prevent themselves from being suggested in photo tags, which the company says is available since its inception.

Shawn Williams, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said it’s unclear as of now if the lawsuit might prompt changes in the way Facebook uses biometric data.

“As more people become aware of the scope of Facebook’s data collection and as consequences begin to attach to that data collection, whether economic or regulatory, Facebook will have to take a long look at its privacy practices and make changes consistent with user expectations and regulatory requirements,” said Williams.

A Facebook spokeswoman said the company was reviewing Monday’s ruling that certifies the class action. “We continue to believe the case has no merit and will defend ourselves vigorously,” she said.

Monday’s ruling is certainly not good news for Facebook, as the Silicon Valley giant is currently caught in a privacy scandal over the mishandling of 87 million users’ personal data and sharing with a third party.

Source: Bloomberg