Facial Recognition Features of Facebook Could Cost The Company Billions

Photo by Stock Catalog from Flickr

If you think that the past weeks have been terrible for Facebook, a federal judge recently reminded us that some things could get even lot worse for the social media company.

On Monday, a judge in San Francisco ruled that the users of Facebook in Illinois can continue with a class action suit against the social media giant over its use of a facial recognition software. The said suit has the potential to cost the company with fines that are worth billions of dollars.

The said lawsuit results from the strict laws of Illinois regarding biometric privacy. The Biometric Information Privacy Act of the state allows the residents of the state to sue the companies that do not adhere to the said law, which requires that tech companies must obtain prior consent before they can collect biometric data. (This is likely why the viral selfie matching feature of  Google in its Arts & Culture app did not work in the state).

The lawsuit says that Facebook violated these rules with the Tag Suggestions feature of the platform, which makes use of facial recognition to suggest tags for the photos that the users upload to the platform.

In a statement made by a spokesperson from Facebook, it said that the company is currently “reviewing the ruling. We continue to believe the case has no merit and will defend ourselves vigorously.”

The firm has a lot at stake in the said case. Theoretically, it could face billions of dollars worth of fines, as the law of Illinois says that each violation can result in fines that range between $1,000 and $5,000 and millions of residents from the state could be covered by the said lawsuit.

The judge wrote: “Facebook seems to believe that a class action is not superior because statutory damages could amount to billions of dollars. Substantial damages are not a reason to decline class certification.”

Even so, it is not likely that Facebook would actually end up be required to pay billions of dollars in fines. The ruling on Monday was only one step in what will probably continue to be a long legal battle (as the suit was originally filed way back in 2015).

However, it does not a good look for the company, which is experiencing more scrutiny than ever regarding how it handles the private data of the users of its social media platform. The ruling arrived less than a week after Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO and founder of Facebook, spent hours testifying before Congress regarding the ongoing Cambridge Analytica fiasco and other privacy issues of the company.