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April 18, 2018

And now a class action: new blow for Facebook

A judge declared admissible a class action claim against the collection of private user data related to facial recognition.

For Facebook, which hangs around the Cambridge Analytica case and whose CEO Mark Zuckerberg, just out of two days of hearing by the US parliamentarians, is encouraged to repeat the exercise with MEPs, it is a pressure moreover: a US judge declared Monday, April 16 admissible the request for a class action suit against Facebook on charges of illegal collection of private data of users related to a facial recognition tool.

This dispute concerns a feature launched by Facebook in 2010 and suggesting usernames to identify on photos that have been published on the network. A tool then automatically identifies the people in the photos posted on Facebook.

The San Francisco judge, James Donato, had already rejected in 2016 a Facebook appeal against this complaint from users in Illinois. This time, he agreed to further qualify the complaint class action, according to his decision.

The complainants’ allegations are “sufficiently consistent to allow a fair and effective resolution on a collective basis,” the judge wrote.

Scanned photos for identification

The “class action” concerns “Facebook users located in Illinois for which Facebook has created and maintained [typical profiles listing the geometric characters of their faces] after June 7, 2011″, it is specified. The court nevertheless refused that the collective complaint concerns all the users of this State appearing in a photo on Facebook.

The disputed feature is based on a facial recognition program that scans the photos of the network where people are already identified, to form kinds of profiles listing the geometric characters of the face-specific to each individual. These profiles are then compared to the new snapshots put on the line to propose identifications.

For plaintiffs, this is done unbeknownst to users and contravenes Illinois’ biometrics laws.

“We are reviewing the decision and we continue to believe that the case is unfounded and we will defend ourselves vigorously,” said a Facebook spokeswoman for AFP.

Ignorant plaintiffs? Argument rejected

To argue its case, Facebook argued that the plaintiffs “know almost nothing” about the system in question; his lawyers did not convince the judge, who writes in his judgment that “the evidence of the plaintiffs shows a perfectly adequate understanding of the case, and it clearly shows their concerns about the treatment by Facebook of biometric personal data”.

The social network has also argued that its servers are not in Illinois, the laws of this state do not apply. Nor did Judge Donato accept this argument, and he wrote:

“Contrary to Facebook’s suggestion, the geographic location of its data servers is not a determining factor: Server location may be a factor in the territoriality survey, but it is not exclusive. “

Facebook’s facial recognition tool, extended to several countries after the United States, had already sparked strong fears in 2011 regarding the privacy of users. As a result, the company has suspended its use in Europe since September 2012.

 

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