Whenever you tag a friend in a Facebook photo, the social media giant stores their facial biometric information in a database. This (kind of creepy) data collecting practice will meet its first major test in the U.S. this week as a class action lawsuit filed against Facebook will proceed in court.
This lawsuit was first filed under an Illinois law that would fine Facebook between $1,000 and $5,000 every time a person’s image is used without permission. The complaint argues that Facebook users are in control of their own faces, and they should be able to dictate whether or not the site obtains that information.
“Just as trade secrets or subscriber lists can be proprietary to a company like Facebook, unique and unchangeable biometric identifiers are proprietary to individuals,” the complaint reads.
Google is facing similar privacy suits, and Shutterfly reached a settlement over its own facial-recognition technology earlier this year. However, it’s a hard issue to take to court; users involved in the suit will need to prove “concrete harm” was done to them by having their faces stored without permission, and that’s difficult to do. But it’s an important issue to argue because of how much information companies like Facebook can glean about you and your friends through facial recognition.
“Biometric identifiers are a key way to link together information about people,” Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told Bloomberg. “[Facebook has] cleverly got its users to improve the accuracy of its own database.”
Facial recognition has already been severely limited in Europe because of cases similar to this one, so it will be interesting to see if any long-term changes are affected by its outcome.