On Thursday, many Facebook users around the country who have lived in Illinois between 2011 and 2020 received an unusual in-app notification. ''Court Notice: You may be entitled to payments in a class action over FB's face recognition technology."
Many Facebook users may have glazed over the notification, like I almost did, or thought it was a scam, but it isn't.
In July, Facebook agreed to pay out $650 million to settle a class action lawsuit that alleged that the social media giant violated Illinois's strict biometric privacy law that allows consumers to sue companies that collect personal data, using facial and fingerprint scanning, without their consent. The settlement marked the largest privacy consumer settlement in the country's history.
Now Facebook users who live or have lived in Illinois are eligible to apply for payouts likely between $200 and $400 dollars, if they meet two criteria. You must have lived in Illinois for six months between June 7, 2011 and August 19, 2020 and have uploaded or been tagged in at least one photo containing your face during that time period. The settlement also requires Facebook turn "off" the facial recognition setting and remove face templates for members of the class action lawsuit.
A former Illinois resident myself, I just filed a claim, which took me literally two minutes on the website created by the law firm that filed the class action lawsuit. The deadline for applying is November 23, and it's unclear when consumers will receive the payouts.
"There are a lot of bad privacy settlement deals out there, and class action members are skeptical this will benefit them," Jay Edelson, the lawyer who represented Facebook users in the case, told Motherboard. "But we're hopeful this changes the narrative. Biometrics is one of two major battle grounds for the next five years when it comes to privacy. If Silicon Valley wins, we'll frankly be in a different country."
Years ago, Facebook began using facial recognition technology to tag user's faces in photos, which seemed innocent enough at the time. But as facial recognition technology has developed and its ill effects have become more widely understood, privacy and AI experts as well as politicians have begun calling for a ban on its use which has come to play a critical role in policing and mass surveillance. In a 2018 statement responding to the Facebook class action lawsuit, Nikki Sokol, a Facebook attorney said, “This lawsuit is without merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously.”
Currently, Illinois is the only state with strong laws protecting consumers' biometric information. Edelson hopes that the historic settlement pushes legislators in other states to pass equally strong laws that protect consumers against tech giants that harvest biometric data.
"These are fights that are happening in state houses around the country," Edelson said. "We think this settlement should send such a strong message to legislators that are on the fence about it."