Instagram could face up to $500 billion in fines for secretly collecting users’ biometric details without their permission or consent.
Complainants urged Facebook to pay $5,000 per member of the class for any malicious violation of the Illinois BIPA Act. The law forbids the misuse of biometric data. If the tech giant is guilty as charged, it will be fined $1,000 in civil penalties for any reckless breach of the law.
What are the claims?
A class-action lawsuit filed in San Mateo Superior Court by Illinois resident Kelly Whalen claimed that Instagram has a face-tagging feature that recognizes users through facial recognition. According to the case, the application allegedly generates an “image replica” stored in its database. The complaints added that Instagram instantly checks the faces of people seen in posts by other users despite not using the app. The social media application, according to complainants, did not adhere to the terms of service.
The app’s activity is in violation of an Illinois state statute the prohibits businesses from obtaining biometric data from individuals without their approval or permission, the complaint says.
“[The social media platform] uses the [biometrics] to bolster its facial recognition abilities across all of its products, including the Facebook application,” the plaintiff wrote.
“Even if a user does not have facial recognition enabled on their personal account, their picture may still be scanned, processed, and loaded into Facebook’s database if it fits the data of a user who does have the facial recognition setting disabled,” the complaint says.
The plantiff claimed that the social media platform shares this information among various entities. The complaint mentioned that Facebook does all of this without notifications or reports required by Illinois law. According to the plantiff, Facebook immediately collects information and posts it across its channels.
Instagram users whose data are obtained by Facebook “have no redress for violating their biologically identifiable knowledge,” the complaint claims.
The lawsuit claimed that Instagram had 118 million active users in the U.S. in 2019. However, Whalen and other defendants were unable to determine whether Instagram third parties have access to their facial recognition data for what reason.
A baseless suit?
The complaint claimed that Facebook began using facial recognition technology in 2010. When the tech giant acquired Instagram in 2012, the picture-sharing application also started using the same feature. This effectively uses the software to scan images of faces posted to the Instagram app. The ‘hidden’ feature would generate a personalized facial recognition profile for individual users and other biological details.
Facebook spokeswoman Stephanie Otway said the Facebook app does not use face recognition in the way Instagram does. She added: “This suit is baseless.” Instagram doesn’t use Face Recognition technology, Otway clarified.
The approach, unfortunately, is partially troublesome. The system doesn’t necessarily require users to opt-out of data collection. Instagram users, according to the case, don’t even have a chance to provide written consent.
Various lawsuits from Illinois threatened Facebook twice this year. Instagram’s parent company has twice been threatened with lawsuits stemming from Illinois. Last month, Facebook agreed to pay $650 million to settle a complaint. The complainants claimed that the tech giant deployed a separate face-tagging device without their permission.