Facebook won’t admit it’s done anything wrong–instead, it’s framing the settlement as a cost of doing business.
Facebook will pay a half-billion dollars to settle an Illinois lawsuit against the company’s facial recognition software.
According to The New York Times, the case concerned Facebook’s user-recognition system, called Tag Suggestions. The since-restricted software provided recommendations for people tagged in Facebook photographs.
However, the lawsuit said Tag Suggestions violated Illinois biometric privacy laws by harvesting users’ data en masse and without consent.
Under the terms of the settlement, Facebook will have to pay $550 million to eligible Illinois residents. Attorneys have so far estimated that millions of Facebook members in the state could have a claim. The pay-out, notes the New York Times, surpasses the $380 million Equifax has agreed to pay over its massive 2017 data breach.
The suit, says TechCrunch, was led, in part, by Edelson PC; two other firms were involved in the case and its resolution.
“Biometrics is one of two primary battlegrounds, along with geolocation, that will define our privacy rights for the next generation,” said Edelson PC founder and CEO Jay Edelson. “We are proud of the strong team we had in place that had the resolve to fight this critically important case over the last five years. We hope and expect that other companies will follow Facebook’s lead and pay significant attention to the importance of our biometric information.”
The $550 settlement, Edelson PC claims, is the “largest all-cash privacy class action settlement to date.”
Mark Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center—a nonprofit which filed a brief in the case against Facebook—praised Illinois for instating a well-considered law able to challenge corporate abuse.
“The Illinois law has real teeth. It pretty much stopped Facebook in its tracks,” Rotenberg said. “Tech firms and other companies that collect biometric data must be very nervous right now.”
The New York Times notes that, since the biometric privacy law was passed in 2008, it’s created obstacles across the electronics industries. Voice assistants, doorbell cameras, and photo labeling technologies all run the risk of capturing individual likenesses which could bring legal consequences for users and manufacturers alike.
Nathan Wessler, an ACLU staff attorney, said courts pushed back against Facebook’s argument that consumers have no right to sue if they’ve suffered no hardship or financial loss as a consequence of biometric data collections.
“Courts have recognized that the very loss of control over this highly sensitive highly personal information itself causes harm to people,” Wessler said.
Nevertheless, Facebook maintains the lawsuit had no merit and that it settled simply to save money.
“We decided to pursue a settlement as it was in the best interest of our community and our shareholders to move past this matter,” said Facebook CFO David Wehner.
Wehner, adds the Times, framed the matter as practically administrative: the social media site’s maintenance costs and general expenses have expanded significantly in the past several years.