Facebook is facing a class action lawsuit regarding its Tag Suggestions feature in the US, as a man has alleged that obtaining biometric information about users without their permission violates Illinois state law.
The plaintiff Carlo Licata, from Chicago, Illinois, claims that he and other citizens in the state have had their rights violated by Facebook's Tag Suggestions feature, which uses facial recognition technology to automatically scans its users' faces and find possible matches in new photos any user uploads to the website.
According to Licata, this is in direct violation of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), which was passed into law in 2008 in order to protect citizens because Chicago and other locations in the state were being used by biometrics startups to test out the technology for use in security and financial transactions.
The law requires companies to obtain the explicit consent of Illinois citizens before they can collect their biometric facial recognition data.
The plaintiff filed a civil complaint with the Cook County court on 1 April and wants the courts to find Facebook in violation of Illinois law, stop the social media giant's collection of biometric data, make sure the biometric data is permanently destroyed, and award damages to the proposed class.
The complaint states:
Unfortunately, Facebook actively conceals from its users that its Tag Suggestion feature actually uses proprietary facial recognition software to scan their uploaded photographs, locate their faces, extract unique biometric identifiers associated with their faces, and determine who they are.
For instance, Facebook doesn't disclose its wholesale biometrics data collection practices in its privacy policies, nor does it even ask users to acknowledge them. Instead, Facebook merely hints at the underlying functionality behind Tag Suggestions—only describing the feature's use of facial recognition software on remote sections of its website.
With millions of its users in the dark about the true nature of this technology, Facebook secretly amassed the world's largest privately held database of consumer biometrics data.
Licata also points out in his complaints that the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a Best Practices guide which necessitates that "companies provide consumers with the option to affirmatively consent to the collection of their biometric identifiers before ever scanning and extracting biometric data from digital photographs".
Outside Europe, in 2012 Facebook was subject to an investigation by the European Commission over facial cognition, and eventually had to turn the service off completely in the continent.
However, the function still works if someone in Europe uploads a photo of a friend in the US, and that person has enabled tag suggest functionality on their profiles.
Facebook told the Chicago Tribune that the class action lawsuit "is without merit" but has yet to formally respond to the complaint.