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Facebook to pay $650 million for facial recognition feature as US Judge approves privacy settlement

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A US judge has approved a $650 million settlement in a privacy-related lawsuit against Facebook, which had accused the company of violating an Illinois biometric privacy law by harvesting facial data for its photo-labelling service, Tag Suggestions. This, the lawsuit had claimed was being done without seeking permission from users and without informing them about how long their data would be stored. Tag Suggestions, which has been a feature on Facebook since 2011, uses face-matching software to suggest names of people in the users’ photos.

The lawsuit was filed in Illinois in 2015, for violating Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act. This legislation requires companies to obtain written permission from subjects before the collection of a person’s biometric information. It gives residents the right to sue companies for upto $5,000 for each violation.

Facebook’s history with face recognition software

  • In November 2019, we had reported that Facebook was testing a facial recognition system on its mobile app to verify whether users were humans or bots. The current status of this yet-unreleased feature is unclear.
  • In September 2019, the company said that users would have to to opt-in to its ‘face recognition’ feature  which was used by default  to provide tag suggestions. The default ‘tag suggestions’ feature was rolled back. However, it only meant that Facebook could no longer suggest your friends to tag you in photos, unless you wanted to. Facial recognition, as a feature, continues to be present on the platform.
  • In July 2019, US’ Federal Trade Commission (FTC) slapped a $5 billion penalty on Facebook for misrepresenting users’ ability to control the use of facial recognition technology with their accounts, among other things. The FTC had said that Facebook’s facial recognition setting called “Tag Suggestions” was turned on by default, while the updated data policy suggested that users would have to opt-in to enable facial recognition for their accounts.

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