Google Hit With New Lawsuit Over Faceprints

Google has been hit with a new lawsuit accusing the company of violating an Illinois biometric privacy law by compiling faceprints.

“Unbeknownst to the average consumer ... Google’s proprietary facial recognition technology scans each and every photo uploaded to the cloud-based Google Photos for faces, extracts geometric data relating to the unique points and contours (i.e., biometric identifiers) 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,” Illinois resident Brandon Molander alleges in a class-action complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

This new complaint comes one week after Facebook said it had agreed to pay $550 million to settle a similar lawsuit.

Molander, who says he has had a Google Photos account for five years, claims the company is violating the Illinois Biometric Privacy Act. That law requires companies to obtain consumers' written consent before collecting or storing scans of their facial geometry.

“Molander’s Google Photos account contains dozens of photos depicting Plaintiff Molander that were taken with his smart phone and automatically uploaded in Illinois to Google Photos,” his complaint alleges. “Google analyzed these photos by automatically locating and scanning Plaintiff Molander’s face, and by extracting geometric data relating to the contours of his face and the distances between his eyes, nose, and ears -- data which Google then used to create a unique template of Plaintiff Molander’s face.”

The complaint appears similar to one filed against Google in 2016, in federal district court in Illinois. That case, brought by Illinois residents Lindabeth Rivera and Joseph Weiss, was decided in Google's favor last year by U.S. District Court Judge Edmond Chang, who ruled that the company's alleged practices didn't cause the kind of concrete injury that warrants a lawsuit.

Chang said in his ruling that faces are “public” information, and that Google didn't violate people's privacy by using facial recognition technology on photos of faces.

“All that Google did was to create a face template based on otherwise public information -- plaintiffs’ faces,” he wrote.

But federal judges in California came to the opposite conclusion in a lawsuit accusing Facebook of violating the Illinois privacy law. In that matter, a trial judge and a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Facebook's argument that its alleged faceprint collection didn't cause the kind of concrete injury that would support a lawsuit.

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