Judge: Class-action lawsuit against Facebook for using facial recognition may proceed

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Facebook could owe billions of dollars for using facial recognition after a judge approved a pending lawsuit against the social network.

The decision by a United States district judge means the company could be sued by millions of US users.

The lawsuit, which was first filed in 2015, says Facebook broke the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act of 2008, which says a company must obtain written permission before scanning and storing one's biometrics, including the type of face-scanning technology Facebook uses to tag users in photos. This could result in Facebook paying out billions of dollars. Facebook's photo-tagging function recognizes users' faces and suggests their names when they appear in photos uploaded by their friends.

U.S. District Judge James Donato's decision to let the lawsuit proceed as a class action is a significant step for users seeking to put Facebook on the hook for fines of $1,000 to $5,000 (U.S.) for each time a person's image is used without permission under a unique IL law.

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Judge Donato has ruled that the IL privacy act is clear and that Facebook collected a "wealth of data on its users, including self-reported residency and IP addresses".

In June 2011, Facebook introduced a feature in certain countries - the U.S. being one of them - giving users the ability to automatically tag people in their photographs. Violations of BIPA typically incur a fine of between $1,000 to $5,000.

Facebook also unsuccessfully contended that the consumers shouldn't be able to proceed as a class for numerous reasons, including that any injuries to consumers require individual determinations. The lawsuit has three plaintiffs, but a class-action status could potentially include millions of IL users. While not trivial, BIPA's statutory damages are not enough to incentivize individual plaintiffs given the high costs of pursuing discovery on Facebook's software and code base and Facebook's willingness to litigate the case... Facebook switched the feature off in Europe in 2012 after an audit by Ireland's data watchdog.

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