Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

Illinois Privacy Law Forces $650 Million Class Action Settlement

Last week, Facebook became the latest company to settle up under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act. This Illinois privacy law is designed to protect the state’s residents from invasive privacy practices. Facebook is to pay $650 million for its violations of the law.

A California federal judge gave final approval Friday in the settlement with an order to get at least $345 to each of nearly 1.6 million Illinois class members “as expeditiously as possible.”

Illinois Privacy law
Image credit: Piqsels

The Illinois privacy law has caused headaches for many tech companies in recent years. Lawyers orginally filed the suit against Facebook in 2015. The suit claimed that Facebook’s practice of tagging people in photos using facial recognition without their consent violated Illinois state law. The April 2015 lawsuit against Facebook filed in Cook County Circuit Court on behalf of plaintiff Carlo Licata, alleged that Facebook’s use of facial tagging features without consent was not permitted under Illinois privacy law.

The class included about 6.9 million Facebook users in Illinois. Facebook created and stored a face template for each of them after June 2011. To qualify, Facebook users had to live in Illinois for at least six months over the last nine years.

The court transferred the case to Chicago federal court and then to California federal court. The case attained class-action status in California.

The Settlement Details

The final award is $100 million higher than what Facebook originally offered. The social media giant initially proposed a judge found that inadequate.

Facebook disabled the automatic facial recognition tagging features in 2019… instead making it opt-in. Facebook also took care of some of the privacy criticisms discussed in the Illinois privacy law class action suit.

Of the $650 million Facebook agreed to pay, the judge awarded $97.5 million in attorneys’ fees and roughly $915,000 in expenses. The court also awarded $5,000 to each of the three named plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Each class member will receive an equal share of the remainder.

A number of lawsuits accused Microsoft, Google, and Amazon of breaking the same law last year after Illinois residents’ faces were used to train their facial recognition systems without consent.

Other Tech Companies Tripped up by Illinois Privacy Law

The Illinois privacy law has become an obstacle for some tech titans; however, the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act has even more potential to affect smaller companies with questionable privacy practices. Clearview AI is the developer of the controversial facial recognition software company. It is now the defendant in its own the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act class action lawsuit. Illinois citizens sued in Illinois because the company’s practices violated of Illinois law. Clearview tried to avoid the class-action lawsuit. However, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to Illinois state court.

Clearview’s scraping includes publicly available photos, location data, and other information. Plaintiffs say that this information came from a number of websites and social media platforms. They say Clearview’s conduct violated the Illinois privacy law. That law requires companies to obtain permission from subjects prior to collecting and selling access to the data.

The court might hit Clearview with a verdict or settlement. If so, the company might go out of business in the state altogether. In fact, in May of last year, with the prospect of defending a number of lawsuits, the New York-based startup announced that it was cancelling the accounts of every customer “who was not either associated with law enforcement or some other federal, state, or local government department, office, or agency.”

Summary

Some see the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act as the blueprint for other states to copy, which would create severe headaches for tech companies trying to do business on a state-by-state basis.

Ryan Carpenter serves as Attorney and Managing Director of Carpenter Wellington. Ryan advises clients across a broad set of corporate and commercial matters.

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