Illinois Privacy Law Leads to a Half Billion Dollar Facebook Settlement

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Think of this scenario- you go on your Facebook account to scroll through your friend’s posts and maybe a thousand cat videos, then you decide to upload a photo of you and your crew from last night’s party. You upload the photo, then suddenly Facebook automation pops up with suggestions on who to tag, specifically those who appear in the photo with you. Sounds easy right? Sounds familiar, right? Well because of this tagging ability, a whole privacy issue has spun into legal warfare between big tech and the law once again.

According to the Associated Press’ Kathleen Foody in a Washington Times article, three individuals, Adam Pezan, Carlo Licata, and Nimesh Patel recently took Facebook to court over this issue. Foody writes that their lawsuit is only “one of more than 400 filed against tech companies big and small in the past five years, by one law firm’s count – alleges that Facebook broke Illinois [where the three plaintiff’s in this case reside] biometric privacy law that allows people to sue companies that fail to get consent before harvesting consumers’ data, including through facial and fingerprint scanning.”

This is simply part of a larger digital privacy discussion according to tech experts and privacy advocates who “hail the law as the nation’s strongest form of protection in the commercial use of such data…” This and other laws like it have maintained it’s legal standing despite the combined legal combatants ranging from Big Tech and other digital enterprises whom use some form of biometric identification software and services.

Because of the Illinois state law protecting the biometric privacy rights of the three plaintiff’s, “Facebook recently agreed to settle for $550 million, which could lead to payouts of a couple hundred dollars to several million Illinois users of the social networking site.” To put this in perspective, $380.5 million is the total sum that Equifax has to pay alone this month in order to settle a class-action lawsuit from all the way back in 2017 regarding a breach in consumer data.

The New York Times in their reporting added that when Facebook executives disclosed this particular settlement during their quarterly financial results, that their revenue rose 25 percent to $21 billion “in the fourth quarter, compared with a year earlier, while profit increased 7 percent to $7.3 billion.”

According to Facebook chief financial officer David Wehner during an earnings call, “the settlement added to the social network’s rising general and administrative costs, which increased 87 percent from a year ago”, with another Facebook spokesman telling investors that “We decided to pursue a settlement as it was in the best interest of our community and our shareholders to move past this matter.”