Lawsuits Challenge Tech Giants Large-Scale Biometric Collection

By Phillip Schneider

History is being made in Illinois as a lawsuit challenges Facebook’s ability to biometrically track and profile individuals using facial recognition. The lawsuit could be a massive step toward privacy rights in the twenty first century by keeping corporations from snatching up more of our personal data.

Under Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act, nobody in the state of Illinois is allowed to collect biometric identifiers whether they be fingerprints, face prints, or DNA, without a person’s explicit consent. The suit has already passed its first big hurdle as a judge from Northern California (where Facebook is based) ruled against Facebook’s attempt to dismiss.

If you run a bar, the law doesn’t prevent you from picking up my used pint glass, but it prevents you from pulling my DNA off it. – Alvaro Bedoya, Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law

However, Facebook does not think that this suit is valid as they have disclosed in the company’s data policy that they use biometrics for their photo-tagging feature. It is no question that this feature is one of Facebook’s biggest products, but it is not certain whether this satisfies the legal definition of consent.

This lawsuit is without merit…and we will defend ourselves vigorously. – A Facebook Spokesperson

Google, Shutterfly Also Sued Over Biometrics

Other tech companies have had similar lawsuits filed over facial recognition such and Google and Shutterfly. An Illinois lawsuit was filed in march of 2016 against Google Photos by Chicago resident Lindabeth Rivera after an Android smartphone automatically uploaded roughly eleven photographs to Google Photos, which resulted in a biometric face print of Lindabeth for life. She was not a smartphone owner, making her an unwilling participant in the scheme.

The use of facial recognition technology in the commercial context presents numerous consumer privacy concerns. – Lawyers for Rivera

You can’t turn off your face – Alvaro M. Bedoya, founding executive director of Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy & Technology

The states of Illinois and Texas are but the only ones to have any kind of regulation against the collection of biometric data. It is important to note that no federal laws are yet in place restricting this type of data collection, which many privacy advocates believe to be a result of massive lobbying efforts on part of the corporations. However, Shutterfly and Facebook are arguing that BIPA (Biometric Information Privacy Act) only applies to actual faces, thereby exempting photographs.

Facebook Is Almost As Good At Identifying Faces As Humans

To see just how accurate the technology is, you needn’t look farther than Facebook’s “Deep Face” project. In 2014, Facebook had announced that their software was able to identify faces of individuals at 97.25 percent accuracy. To put this in perspective, studies have shown humans ability to identify faces at 97.5 percent. That’s a mere .25 percent shy of human capability, but the icing on the cake is that Facebook used 4.4 million faces from 4,030 people in its software, making you a potential unwitting participant in the project.

It may be a long way off, but the results of these cases will be the deciding factor for years to come on whether large tech companies like these can take our biometric data without our permission.

Image Credit

This article originally appeared at Activist Post.

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