Topline: Facebook on Wednesday agreed to pay $550 million to settle a lawsuit accusing it of collecting biometric data of users’ faces without permission—the largest ever cash settlement resolving a privacy-related lawsuit.

  • The lawsuit alleged Facebook violated the 2008 Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, which prohibits companies from collecting biometric data without user permission.
  • The suit targeted Facebook’s collection of “face prints” to support its tagging feature, which uses facial recognition to automatically suggest who is in a person’s photos.
  • Plaintiffs could get $200 or more from the settlement, lawyers estimated.
  • The suit was filed in Illinois because it is the only state in the U.S. with a biometric privacy statute.
  • Facebook did not admit wrongdoing in settling the case, but agreed to ask users permission to use before collecting biometric data in the future.

Crucial quote: “Biometrics is one of the two primary battlegrounds, along with geolocation, that will define our privacy rights for the next generation,” said Jay Edelson, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, in a statement.

News peg: As companies and law enforcement agencies begin to adopt facial recognition, some are reticent about how the technology could lead to privacy and civil rights violations. San Francisco was the first city in the U.S. to ban the use of facial recognition by city agencies and the police department last year.

Key background: Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal erupted in 2018, privacy advocates have criticized Facebook for its privacy practices. The Federal Trade Commission fined Facebook $5 million for failing to protect user privacy in response, and the company has since faced more scrutiny for collecting swaths of data for its ad targeting operation.


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