Facebook Loses Facial Recognition Appeal

Facebook this week is facing another privacy induced lawsuit after its attempt to halt legal action was refused by a federal appeals court.

The social networking giant had been sued back in 2015 when Illinois users accused Facebook of violating that state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act in collecting biometric data, Reuters reported.

Facebook is already smarting after the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ruled last month that it has to pay a record $5bn fine for ‘repeated violations’ of its 2012 agreement with the FTC – and matters were not helped by the Cambridge Analytica scandal from 2018.

Facial recognition

And now in another legal setback, Reuters has reported that a federal appeals court on Thursday rejected Facebook’s effort to undo a class action lawsuit that claimed it illegally collected and stored biometric data for millions of users without their consent.

Facebook is allegedly in hot water because of its “Tag Suggestions” feature, which allowed users to recognize their Facebook friends from previously uploaded photos.

It is worth noting that Facebook suspended facial recognition for European users eight years ago after the practice was deemed illegal, because it stored biometric data without users’ explicit consent.

And now on the over side of the pond, there has been a 3-0 ruling from the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco over Facebook’s facial recognition technology.

This ruling potentially exposes the social networking giant to millions of dollars in potential damages to the Illinois users who brought the case.

“This biometric data is so sensitive that if it is compromised, there is simply no recourse,” Shawn Williams, a lawyer for plaintiffs in the class action, was reported by Reuters as saying in an interview. “It’s not like a Social Security card or credit card number where you can change the number. You can’t change your face.”

Facebook apparently said it plans to appeal.

“We have always disclosed our use of face recognition technology and that people can turn it on or off at any time,” a spokesman told Reuters in an email.

Class action

This appeals court ruling means that this lawsuit will now return to US District Judge James Donato in San Francisco, who had certified a class action in April 2018, for a possible trial.

It is reported that Illinois’ biometric privacy law provides for damages of $1,000 for each negligent violation and $5,000 for each intentional or reckless violation.

And that is bad news for Facebook, as it is reported that the class action lawsuit could include 7 million Facebook users.

The case is Patel et al v Facebook, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 19-15982

Quiz: Think you know all about Facebook?

Tom Jowitt @TJowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

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