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Judge says class action suit against Facebook over facial recognition can go forward

Whenever a company may be guilty of something, from petty neglect to grand deception, there’s usually a class action lawsuit filed. But until a judge rules that lawsuit legitimate, the threat remains fairly empty. Unfortunately for Facebook, one major suit from 2015 has just been given that critical go-ahead.

The case concerns an Illinois law that prohibits collection of biometric information, including facial recognition data, in the way that Facebook has done for years as part of its photo-tagging systems.

BIPA, the Illinois law, is a real thorn in Facebook’s side. The company has not only been pushing to have the case dismissed, but it has been working to have the whole law changed by supporting an amendment that would defang it — but more on that another time.

Judge James Donato in California’s Northern District has made no determination as to the merits of the case itself; first, it must be shown that there is a class of affected people with a complaint that is supported by the facts.

For now, he has found (you can read the order here) that “plaintiffs’ claims are sufficiently cohesive to allow for a fair and efficient resolution on a class basis.” The class itself will consist of “Facebook users located in Illinois for whom Facebook created and stored a face template after June 7, 2011.”

An earlier, broader class suggested by the plaintiffs included all Illinois users who appeared in a photograph on Facebook, but the judge, commendably, decided that this would include people who appeared in images but were not in fact recognized or recorded as face templates by the recognition systems. The more limited class will still amount to millions of people.

Facebook’s attempt to discredit the suit, quibbling over definitions and saying the plaintiffs “know almost nothing” about the systems in question, did not go over well with the judge. “The deposition testimony by the named plaintiffs shows a perfectly adequate understanding of the case, and it clearly manifests their concerns about Facebook’s treatment of personal biometric data,” he writes.

Its suggestion that no “actual” harm was caused also fails to hold water: “As the Court has already found, there is no question that plaintiffs here has sufficiently alleged that intangible injury.” Requiring “actual” injury would severely limit the reach of a rule like BIPA in Illinois, because, of course, the harm caused is one to one’s privacy and security, not to one’s body or wallet. Of course, the question of whether users consented to their “intangible injury” is yet to be settled, and may be a major crux in the case.

Facebook also tries the old chestnut of saying its servers aren’t in Illinois, so Illinois law doesn’t apply. “Contrary to Facebook’s suggestion,” writes Donato, “the geographic location of its data servers is not a dispositive factor. Server location may be one factor in the territoriality inquiry, but it is not the exclusive one.”

Lastly and most absurdly, Facebook argued that to establish legitimacy it would be necessary to check which users’ face templates were derived from scans of printed photographs instead of natively digital shots. “This too is unavailing,” says Donato, citing a total lack of evidence presented by Facebook.

When contacted for comment, Facebook provided a simple statement:

We are reviewing the ruling. We continue to believe the case has no merit and will defend ourselves vigorously.

The case will go ahead as ordered, though as before, at a snail’s pace.

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class action

Here comes the class action lawsuit after Equifax’s massive hack

Yesterday, Equifax announced that a hacker obtained information about 143 million consumers. This data included social security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some cases, driver’s license numbers. Equifax customers are obviously really, really mad. So it’s not surprising that Bloomberg discovered that a class action lawsuit was filed against Equifax.

Hacks have become quite normal these days. But it’s a bit different with Equifax as the company has a ton of personal information about you. You don’t want anyone to access your social security number or your credit card history.

According to Bloomberg, the lawsuit was filed in Portland, Oregon. Customers say that Equifax has been negligent when it comes to information security. Two firms are leading the class action lawsuit, Olsen Daines PC and Geragos & Geragos. They’re asking for billions in damages.

But this isn’t your average class action lawsuit. As Equifax discovered the hack in July, the company had plenty of time to prepare itself for the aftermath.

In particular, users can check if their information have been compromised by going to You have to enter some personal information. In some cases, Equifax tells you to sign up to TrustedID Premier, an Equifax service. And if you look at the terms of services of TrustedID Premier, it says you can’t participate in a class action:

Other users have reported that they could check if they’ve been compromised without agreeing to those new terms of services. So it’s hard to know for sure if TrustedID Premier is mandatory. But it’s clear that there will be more to come about Equifax’s class action lawsuit. In all cases, Equifax’s reputation has been greatly tarnished.

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

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