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Facebook’s photo tag suggestions could violate Illinois law — and cost billions

A judge denied Facebook’s request to toss out a lawsuit arguing that photo tag suggestions breaks a state law against collection of biometric data — twice. The lawsuit has been ongoing since 2015 but in a ruling filed on April 16, Judge James Donato denied the social network’s request to throw out the lawsuit. Donato, a federal judge in San Fransisco, also denied the same request in 2016.

The lawsuit claims that Facebook is breaking an Illinois state law that prohibits collection of biometric data without written consent, called the Biometric Information Privacy Act, by collecting user facial recognition data used in tools like photo tagging. Three Illinois residents are the plaintiffs in the case, but the ruling could represent millions more in the state, according to NPR. Monday’s ruling only says that there’s enough information for the case to move forward.

The case claims that Facebook is breaking that law when using facial recognition on the platform for tasks like suggesting a friend to tag in a photo. Facebook presented several arguments to have the lawsuit thrown out, including the fact that the company’s servers aren’t located in Illinois. Facebook also says they only store “face templates” and not face signatures.

The lawsuit is looking for $5,000 for each instance of using facial recognition without permission — something that could cost the network billions, the judge suggests, even when limited to Illinois. The lawsuit encompasses biometrics stored after June 7, 2011, the day Facebook launched the tag suggestions tool. According to the ruling, an estimated 76 percent of the faces in images on Facebook can be recognized by the tagging suggestion tool.

A previous lawsuit didn’t make it past the same ruling to determine if the case had enough information, because the lawsuit sought compensation for every person in Illinois included in an image, not users that the platform had facial recognition tags for.

While the lawsuit has been ongoing for years, the judge’s decision to deny Facebook’s request for a dismissal comes as the social network is facing increasing scrutiny over third-party app access to data, obscure data policies, and opt out practices in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

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