Facebook Faces Billion Dollar Class-Action Lawsuit Over Facial Recognition Software

facebookWhen you take a photo and put it on Facebook, the social network attempts to identify the faces in the picture and offers to help you tag your friends. In many ways, this can be a lot of fun and quite convenient, but some users are, apparently, not happy with it at all.

As a matter of fact, a California judge has just rejected Facebook’s request to dismiss a class-action suit brought against the massive technology company from three Facebook users in Chicago.

The trio of plaintiffs in this case argue that Facebook’s “Tag Suggestions” face-identifying and photo-tagging feature—which launched in 2010—is quietly collecting and storing personal biometric information without the informed consent. They argue that this, of course, is in violation of a law that already heavily governs the use of such data. In the complaint, the plaintiffs request that Facebook “put a stop to its surreptitious collection, use, and storage of [user’s] sensitive biometric data.”

Each of the three plaintiffs is also seeking damages between $1,000 and $5,000 for each violation for all Facebook users who have uploaded a photo to the service while in residence in the state of Illinois. The trio argues, in fact, that Facebook is in specific violation of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act of 2008 (known as BIPA). Currently, there are 7 million Facebook users in the state of Illinois, which means that Facebook could be facing penalties in the billions of dollars.

Now, Facebook users global upload about 300 million photos per day—as described in the complaint—and the social media company scans each photo with an algorithm aimed at detecting facial features to suggest tagging friends. This feature already has a somewhat spotty history and have even been suspended in Europe after the Irish data protection authority conducted a thorough review.

While the California court has ruled to move forward on this case, this whole process is far from over. The plaintiff’s lawyers still need to convince the court to certify this as a class action case. A 2010 study shows that only about 20 percent of cases filed as class-action lawsuits actually receive certification. As such,the judge will meet with both Facebook and the trio of plaintiffs, in June, to decide if they need to move to trial, which would take place next year

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