Google Battles Illinois Residents Over 'Faceprint' Database

Google is pressing a federal judge to dismiss claims that the company violated an Illinois privacy law by acquiring a faceprint database from IBM, which itself reportedly obtained 100 million pictures from the photo-sharing service Flickr.

In papers filed on November 23, Google contends that Illinois law shouldn't apply to activity that allegedly occurred in other states, among other arguments.

“Plaintiffs do not allege that Google -- which is headquartered in California -- engaged in any conduct in Illinois whatsoever,” the company writes. “The only reasonable inference to be drawn from plaintiffs’ complaint is that the photos at issue were uploaded to Flickr’s servers in California, compiled and analyzed by IBM in New York, and later accessed by Google in California. This cannot give rise to a claim under Illinois law.”

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The company's argument comes in response to a lawsuit brought in July by Illinois residents Steven Vance and Tim Janecyk. They alleged Google violated the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, which requires companies to obtain consumers' written consent before collecting or storing scans of face geometry. Vance and Janecyk are also pursuing claims against Amazon and Microsoft.

The two Illinois residents claim the tech companies acquired the database in order to improve their facial-recognition technology.

In September, Google filed papers urging U.S. District Court Judge Beth Labson Freeman in San Jose to dismiss the lawsuit for numerous reasons, including that the alleged violation of the law didn't occur in Illinois.

Vance and Janecyk countered in papers filed last month that key events underlying the lawsuit took place in Illinois, because they uploaded the photos to Flickr from Illinois.

But Google says in its new papers that even if the photos were uploaded in Illinois, the allegations at the center of the lawsuit wouldn't have occurred in that state.

“There is no dispute that simply taking a photograph, uploading a photograph, or storing a photograph does not implicate BIPA,” Google writes. “Rather, plaintiffs contend that BIPA was violated by Google when it allegedly received plaintiffs’ biometric data from IBM and used it to improve its facial recognition technology. Plaintiffs plainly do not allege that any of this conduct occurred in Illinois.”

Google is facing several other lawsuits over alleged violations of the Illinois privacy law, including one case that's pending before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

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