Facebook faces a lawsuit in regard to their facial recognition “suggested tags” feature with the state of Illinois. When a Facebook user uploads a group photo, Facebook tries to guess the names of the people in the photo and will provide a name suggestion as you hover your cursor over faces. The lawsuit alleges that Facebook violated Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act for this facial recognition feature. The Biometric Information Privacy Act protects personal information like fingerprints, retinal scans, and facial recognition data.
Facebook is able to recognize faces by referring to a user’s archive, so it tends to identify friends who you’ve been in several pictures with before. (People you tagged so many times that Facebook can guess from a few standard features which friend it is.) If you have a photo with new friends who you’ve never previously tagged, Facebook cannot make a suggestion or they’ll make incorrect suggestions. The Illinois users who sued Facebook claim Facebook needs to obtain written consent from users before creating templates of their faces from photos. Facebook maintains that there’s no violation of privacy and that users have to be “aggrieved” or suffering a serious injury or harm as a result.
Why Illinois users only? Isn’t this a feature across the nation? Because it’s Illinois user, Nimesh Patel, who pursued the lawsuit and focused on Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act. Patel thinks that Facebook collects intricate details of facial features that could be used against us if they got into the wrong hands. Knowing facial details could be recreated for crimes or framing or all sorts of wrongdoing. The problem in Patel’s case is that he’s posing what-if consequences and despite their merit, may not be enough to show potential harm.
The lawsuit notifications go to Facebook users who lived in Illinois for at least 60 consecutive days from June 2011 to April 2018. Illinois users who receive lawsuit information can press charges or not. But if this Illinois case ends up nabbing Facebook, then other states and ultimately other countries could also take Facebook to court, resulting in Facebook losing billions of dollars. The class action case goes to court in July and Facebook continues fighting it vigorously.