Biometric Fight: Facebook Defeated on Facial Recognition, But Google, Amazon Still Pushing Ahead

Whether you like it to or not, facial recognition is set to play an ever-growing role in people’s everyday lives. Nonetheless, the fight is now on: push-back has now begun against Silicon Valley’s global digital monopolies who seek to harvest the facial imaging data of every single user on the planet. But with seemingly endless resources and lobbying muscle, do not expect digital barons to give up on implementing a biometeric control grid.

Last month, Facebook lost its federal appeal over its attempt to own the public’s facial recognition data.  As a result, the firm is set to pay out substantial damages over its unethical privacy and business practices. This has also forced the company to halt its facial recognition photo tagging suggestion feature, now offering it on a voluntary basis only – as an ‘opt-in’ feature.

“We conclude that the development of a face template using facial-recognition technology without consent (as alleged here) invades an individual’s private affairs and concrete interests,” said the courts following the initial ruling in early August.

“This decision is a strong recognition of the dangers of unfettered use of face surveillance technology,” said ACLU staff attorney Nathan Freed Wessler.

While this may count as an initial victory for humanity, the battle is far from over. Indeed, caution may seem like the most reasonable route down the road towards a brave new world, this is not what technocrats in government and technology monopolists believe. Facebook’s setback has not deterred the other monopolies from advancing in their plans to own, market and use data on the facial features of the world’s population.

Firms like Amazon, Apple and Google are still actively pursing applications designed to harvest your personal biometric information. In fact, they are doing so as we speak. Google Photos have even been asking users to help “improve” the accuracy of its new facial recognition grouping algorithm by providing feedback on their own images. Recognition ability is becoming so accurate it can now recognise pets, as well as other animals.

If humanity is to prevail in this protracted battle, then users should be aware of which legal arguments will work in a legal setting, and how the courts are defining personal privacy and the limitations of big data capture.

CPO Magazine reports…

A last-ditch attempt by Facebook to scuttle a class action lawsuit involving the company’s use of facial recognition technology has failed. That opens the door for the class action lawsuit to continue in federal court. If Facebook eventually loses the case, it could be forced to pay out billions of dollars to Facebook users who had their “face templates” used by Facebook without their express consent.

Details of the Facebook facial recognition lawsuit:

The class action suit involving facial recognition technology hinges on the court’s interpretation of landmark facial recognition legislation, the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), which went into effect in 2008 – several years before Facebook began using facial recognition technology to create the “tag suggestions” feature for photos uploaded to the social media platform. Facebook officially launched its facial recognition technology back in 2011, and the court case has been limited to possible privacy violations that might have taken place in the period from 2011 to 2015. The case alleges that Facebook illegally collected and stored biometric data, representing a violation of an individual’s private affairs and concrete interests.

Since 2015, the case has been working its way through America’s sometimes convoluted legal system, and the next step had been the certification of an official “class” of plaintiffs who could formally bring the class action lawsuit against Facebook. The Silicon Valley giant, as might be expected, has been fighting this case vigorously for the past several years, arguing that a class action lawsuit was not possible in this case. Instead, said Facebook, individuals would have to bring their case on a one-by-one basis instead of challenging the tech company as part of a certified class of plaintiffs.

So, it was big news when the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that, indeed, there was a class of plaintiffs who could formally bring the case against Facebook. As the federal appeals court ruled, this class consists of “Facebook users in Illinois for whom Facebook created and stored a face template after June 7, 2011.” The limitation of this class to Illinois is important because Illinois is the state where the BIPA went into effect. But even limiting the plaintiffs to Illinois – one of America’s most populous states – is not going to help Facebook much, because the total number of those impacted within the state could be close to 7 million users. (By way of comparison, the city of Chicago in Illinois currently has a population of 2.7 million).

Continue this story at CPO Magazine

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