The accord, which requires a judge’s approval, will avert a trial that may have exposed the social networking company to billions of dollars in damages. Facebook fought unsuccessfully to persuade the
Facebook didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The settlement was disclosed to investors on a quarterly earnings call.
While Facebook has weathered controversy over privacy almost since its inception, the company has come under particularly harsh scrutiny in recent years, both in the U.S. and in Europe. Facebook reached a historic $5 billion deal in July with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to settle an investigation into its privacy practices stemming from the
Consumer privacy cases in U.S. courts occasionally have succeeded in making internet companies change their policies, but have rarely triggered payouts of more than $10 million. The lawsuit over photo scanning was brought under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act of 2008, the toughest laws of its kind in the U.S.
“Biometrics is one of the two primary battlegrounds, along with geolocation, that will define our privacy rights for the next generation,” Jay Edelson, a Chicago-based lawyer representing consumers who sued, said in the statement.
Facebook has for years encouraged users to tag people in photographs they upload in their personal posts and the social network stores the collected information. The company has used a program it calls DeepFace to match other photos of a person.
Courts have struggled over what qualifies as an injury to pursue a privacy case in lawsuits accusing Facebook, Google and other internet companies of siphoning users’ personal information from emails and monitoring their web browsing habits. Suits over selling the data to advertisers have often failed.
Facebook contended that its collection of biometric data didn’t cause users to suffer any concrete injury such as loss of money or property. But a San Francisco federal judge rejected that argument, saying in 2018 that the alleged violation of the user-consent requirement in the Illinois law goes to “the very privacy rights the Illinois legislature sought to protect.”
Privacy advocates regard biometric data as especially sensitive because -- unlike names, addresses, credit cards and even social social security numbers, which can be changed -- scans of retinas, fingerprints, hands, face geometry and blood samples are unique identifiers.
U.S. District Judge
Taking the case to trial would be risky because, under the Illinois law, the company could be fined $1,000 to $5,000 each time a person’s image is used without consent. If Facebook had lost it might have been forced to pay $6 billion, according to
The case is In re Facebook Biometric Information Privacy Litigation, 15-cv-03747, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).
(Updates with background on case.)
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