Facebook Presses Judge To Toss 'Faceprint' Privacy Case

Facebook says a recent Supreme Court ruling requires dismissal of a potential class-action accusing the company of violating an Illinois biometric privacy law by compiling a database of "faceprints."

The social networking service cays in papers filed this week with U.S. District Court Judge James Donato in San Francisco that the Supreme Court "changed the law" in its decision in a matter involving online data broker Spokeo. The Supreme Court ruled in that matter that consumers must show a "concrete" injury before they can sue in federal court.

Facebook's battle over "faceprints" dates to 2015, when several Illinois residents alleged that Facebook's automatic photo-tagging feature violates the Illinois Biometric Privacy Act. Facebook's photo-tagging function recognizes users' faces and suggests their names when they appear in photos uploaded by their friends. To accomplish this, Facebook draws on its vast store of users' photos.



The Illinois privacy law, passed in 2008, requires companies to obtain written releases from people before collecting “face geometry” and other biometric data.

In May, Donato handed Facebook a major defeat in the case when he rejected the company's contention that the Illinois law doesn't apply to faceprints derived from photos.

After Donato issued that decision, the Supreme Court came out with its ruling in a lawsuit brought against Spokeo by Thomas Robins, a Virginia resident. Robins alleged that Spokeo violated the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act by displaying incorrect information about him.

The Supreme Court said that Robins could only proceed if he could prove that any errors resulted in a "concrete" injury.

That decision could affect a broad swath of cases against tech companies. Already, companies including Google and Yahoo have argued they're entitled to prevail in pending cases, due to the ruling.

Facebook now argues that the people suing over faceprints also can't proceed with a lawsuit over faceprint collections unless they were harmed in a concrete way.

"Plaintiffs have offered no specific or coherent allegations explaining how this collection and storage actually affects their privacy -- much less causes them concrete harm," Facebook writes. "They have not alleged, for example, that as a direct result of Tag Suggestions, they were identified in an embarrassing photo and therefore fired from their jobs; that they were victims of identity theft; or that they were caught in a compromising situation that adversely -- and concretely -- affected their relationships."

The consumers are expected to file papers opposing Facebook's request within two weeks.

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