Facebook Users In Illinois Could Receive $300 In 'Faceprint' Settlement

Illinois residents whose faceprints were stored by Facebook are expected to receive between $150 and $300 each, as part of the social networking platform's $550 million settlement of a class-action privacy lawsuit, according to class counsel.

“The cash recovery provided for here ... dwarfs recovery provided for in the settlement of other privacy claims,” the attorneys write in court papers filed Friday with U.S. District Court Judge James Donato in San Francisco.

They are asking Donato to grant the settlement preliminary approval, arguing that the deal -- which they describe as the “largest known consumer data privacy settlement in United States history” -- is more favorable to consumers than other privacy settlements involving tech companies.

Many other privacy settlements have required companies to make donations to nonprofits, or pay consumers “at best dozens of dollars rather than hundreds,” class counsel writes.



“The instant settlement bucks that trend,” they write. They add the COVID-19 pandemic weighs in favor of approval, because the settlement could result in a quick distribution of money to consumers.

“Given the context of a global pandemic, the timely distribution of settlement funds is also a benefit to the class,” attorneys for the class write.

The attorneys who brought the case could receive around $20 million.

If accepted by Donato, the settlement will resolve a 2015 complaint alleging the social networking platform's photo-tagging function violated an Illinois biometric privacy law that prohibits companies from collecting or storing people's biometric data without their consent. That measure, considered one of the strongest in the country, provides for damages of up to $5,000 per violation.

Facebook's photo-tagging, rolled out in 2011, allegedly draws on the social networking platform's vast trove of photos to recognize users' faces, and suggest their names when they appear in photos uploaded by their friends.

Facebook initially fought the lawsuit, arguing the case should be dismissed on the grounds that Illinois users weren't injured by any alleged violations of the state law.

Donato rejected Facebook's stance, ruling that the case could proceed as a class-action on behalf of Illinois users who had their faceprints stored by the company since 2011.

Last August, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Donato's decision. Those judges suggested in a written opinion that creating faceprints could have vast and far-reaching privacy implications.

"Taking into account the future development of such technology ... it seems likely that a face-mapped individual could be identified from a surveillance photo taken on the streets or in an office building,” the appellate judges wrote. “Or a biometric face template could be used to unlock the face recognition lock on that individual’s cell phone.”

Facebook attempted to appeal to the Supreme Court, but was turned away in January. The company then announced it had reached a settlement, but details were not revealed in court until Friday.

As part of the class-action settlement, Facebook agreed to turn its face recognition settings to “off” for Illinois residents, and to delete existing faceprints, unless people affirmatively opt in to the feature.

Facebook separately agreed to delete all existing facial templates for U.S. users, unless they affirmatively agree to allow their faceprints to remain in Facebook's database, as part of the company's $5 billion privacy settlement with the Federal Trade Commission.

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