Facebook Ordered to Face Lawsuit Over Facial Recognition

Facebook Ordered to Face Lawsuit Over Facial Recognition

Facebook faces a class-action lawsuit over its use of facial recognition technology to tag people in photos.

The Illinois residents who sued under the Biometric Information Privacy Act have argued the 2008 state law gives them a "property interest" in the algorithms that constitute their digital identities. Damages could be steep - a fact that wasn't lost on the judge, who was unsympathetic to Facebook's arguments for limiting its legal exposure.

Three plaintiffs are seeking $5,000 in penalties per offense for every time Facebook used facial recognition on a user in IL without their explicit permission.

"If you've never been tagged in a photo on Facebook or have untagged yourself in all photos of you on Facebook, then we do not have this summary information for you."

They are referring to Facebook's "tag suggestions" feature, which uses facial recognition to suggest which friends to tag in a photo. But despite Facebook's success in getting the case moved from IL to San Francisco, the judge ruled that "plaintiffs' claims are sufficiently cohesive to allow for a fair and efficient resolution on a class basis".

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The company "seems to believe" that the lawsuit should be pursued by individuals, not as a group, because "damages could amount to billions of dollars", Donato wrote in the ruling.

The suit wants damages of up to $5,000 (£3,482) for every time a person's image was used without their permission. Now, US District Judge James Donato has ruled that it can proceed with class-action status.

A class action is clearly superior to individual proceedings here.

Facebook's immediate response was to have the case transferred to California, the state of its headquarters, as per its user agreement. A company spokesperson said it is "reviewing the ruling", adding that "we continue to believe the case has no merit and will defend ourselves vigorously".

The feature is not available to users in most countries, including the United Kingdom - and can be turned off in settings for USA users. Facebook switched the feature off in Europe in 2012 after an audit by Ireland's data watchdog.

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