Facebook Settles Facial Recognition Suit For $550 Million

Facebook settled a class action lawsuit for $550 million, according to a website hosted by one of the plaintiff’s law firms involved in the case. The suit claimed the company violated the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) for its use of facial recognition technology. The settlement comes days after Facebook’s petition for a writ of certiorari was denied by the Supreme Court.

Facebook used this technology for tagging friends in photos. The complaint stated that Facebook violated BIPA when it used Facebook users’ biometrics without obtaining their consent or informing users how long this information would be stored. Facebook will pay the $550 million to qualifying Illinois users. The settlement was announced as part of the company’s quarterly finance reports.

“We decided to pursue a settlement as it was in the best interest of our community and our shareholders to move past this matter,” a spokesman for Facebook said. Facebook did not admit to any wrongdoing.

The suit, originally filed in 2015, highlights the effects of state privacy laws. “From people who are passionate about gun rights to those who care about women’s reproductive issues, the right to participate in society anonymously is something that we cannot afford to lose,” Jay Edelson, a founding lawyer and CEO from a firm representing Facebook users, said. He added, “Biometrics is one of the two primary battlegrounds, along with geolocation, that will define our privacy rights for the next generation.”

BIPA requires companies using biometrics, such as facial recognition and fingerprints, to obtain written permission, among other measures. Illinois residents can sue for $5,000 per violation, which can add up for a company facing a class action lawsuit. The class encompasses Facebook users from mid-2011 to mid-2015, who can be paid as much as $200 each. The settlement would also require Facebook to get consent from Illinois users in the future for using biometrics.

Facebook claimed that the plaintiffs should not have been able to sue if they cannot prove they suffered harms. Facebook petitioned the Supreme Court to review the case, which the Court denied. Facebook also attempted to have the case dismissed, which was denied.

“Courts have recognized that the very loss of control over this highly sensitive, highly personal information itself causes harm to people,” Nathan Wessler, a staff attorney for the ACLU, which also filed a brief in the case, said.

Facebook first implemented the facial recognition technology in 2010, which did not allow people to opt-in or out; it was active by default. In 2012, Facebook removed the technology for Europe after regulatory pressure but revived it in 2018. In 2019, Facebook reached a $5 billion settlement with the FTC over privacy violations, agreeing to provide clear information about facial recognition.

This case caps off a week of biometrics developments. Clearview AI faces a class-action lawsuit after its use of public images to create a massive facial recognition database was revealed.