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Facebook’s $650 Million Privacy Settlement Approved By Judge (1)

Feb. 26, 2021, 9:23 PMUpdated: Feb. 26, 2021, 10:44 PM

A $650 million biometric privacy settlement with Facebook Inc. was approved by a San Francisco federal judge Friday, capping a yearslong case involving the social media giant’s use of facial technology.

U.S. District Judge James Donato of the Northern District of California said it was one of the largest settlements ever for a privacy violation and would give each interested class member at least $345.

“Overall, the settlement is a major win for consumers in the hotly contested area of digital privacy,” Donato wrote.

Facebook users sued in 2015 over one of its photo-tagging tools, which looks for and identifies people’s face’s in photographs uploaded to the social media site.

The plaintiffs alleged Facebook collected and stored digital scans of their faces in violation of Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act, which requires companies to obtain consent before collecting data such as fingerprints and facial scans.

“We are pleased to have reached a settlement so we can move past this matter, which is in the best interest of our community and our shareholders,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement.

The case raised several “intensely litigated” issues, including whether statutory privacy injury was real and concrete to establish the injury-in-fact required for federal standing, Donato said. The court found it was sufficient for standing under Article III and the Biometric Information Privacy Act.

“The standing issue makes this settlement all the more valuable because Facebook and other big tech companies continue to fight the proposition that a statutory privacy violation is a genuine harm,” Donato wrote.

The settlement was increased to $650 million to $550 million after Donato expressed concern that the original figure was insufficient. Nearly 1.6 million class members submitted claims.

Jay Edelson, one of the lead counsel for the class, said he was proud of the high claims rate and applauded the court’s focus on making sure notice was robust.

“Biometric privacy rights are alive and well in Illinois,” Edelson said. “We’re hoping that legislators in other states see how important biometric privacy is” and adopt similar laws, he said.

The plaintiffs are represented by Edelson P.C., Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP, and Labaton Sucharow LLP. Facebook is represented by Cooley LLP and Mayer Brown LLP.

The case is: In re Facebook Biometric Information Privacy Litig., N.D. Cal., No. 3:15-cv-3747, order 2/26/21.

(Updates with additional reporting.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Jake Holland in Washington at jholland@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kibkabe Araya at karaya@bloombergindustry.com; Keith Perine at kperine@bloomberglaw.com

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