Shutterfly Sued For Creating 'Faceprint' Database

An Illinois resident has sued online photo service Shutterfly and its subsidiary ThisLife for allegedly violating an Illinois privacy law by compiling a database of faceprints.

“Defendants’ proprietary facial recognition technology scans every user-uploaded photo for faces, extracts geometric data relating to the unique points and contours ... of each face, and then uses that data to create and store a template of each face -- all without ever informing anyone of this practice,” Brian Norberg alleges in his complaint, filed on Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

Norberg, who says he never signed up for Shutterfly or ThisLife, alleges that his faceprint was added to the company's directory after his photo was uploaded to the service and tagged with his name, by someone else.

“Plaintiff never consented, agreed or gave permission -- written or otherwise -- to either Defendant for the collection or storage of the biometrics identifiers or biometric information associated with his face template,” he alleges.

He adds that Shutterfly never gave him the opportunity to opt out of its faceprint database.

Norberg is seeking to represent a class of Illinois residents who don't themselves use Shutterfly, and whose faceprints were collected by the service.

His lawsuit alleges that the online photo service violated the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, which requires companies to obtain written releases from people before collecting “face geometry” and other biometric data. That measure, passed in 2008, also requires companies that gather biometric data to notify people about the practice, and to publish a schedule for destroying the information.

Shutterfly “made no effort whatsoever to obtain consent from unwitting third parties” when it launched its facial recognition feature, the lawsuit alleges.

Facebook also recently was sued in Illinois for allegedly violating the state's law regarding biometric identifiers. That matter is pending before U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel. He is slated to hold a status conference on July 14.

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