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Google to pay $100 million to Illinois residents for Photos’ face grouping feature

Google to pay $100 million to Illinois residents for Photos’ face grouping feature


Google allegedly violated Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Google has agreed to pay $100 million to Illinois residents to settle a class-action lawsuit over one of its facial recognition features in Google Photos (via Gizmodo). The complaint alleges Google’s face grouping tool, which automatically identifies your face in photos and videos uploaded to Photos, violates Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA).

Introduced in 2008, the BIPA bars companies from collecting and storing any sort of biometric data, including a “retina or iris scan, fingerprint, voiceprint, or scan of hand or face geometry” without making an individual aware in writing about why it’s collecting this kind of data as well as how long it plans on storing it. Google “is in direct violation” of this law, the complaint claims, as it allegedly collects and analyzes a person’s facial structure in connection with its face grouping feature “without providing notice, obtaining informed written consent or publishing data retention policies.”

Eligible Illinois residents can get anywhere between $200 and $400

Google agreed to a $100 million payout as a result of the class-action suit, and it is required to provide users with a notice about the face grouping feature. So, if you are (or were) an Illinois resident who appeared in a photo or video on Google Photos between May 1st, 2015, and April 25th, 2022, you have until September 24th, 2022, to submit a claim on the settlement’s website. According to the class-action notice, you can get anywhere between $200 and $400, depending on court-related expenses and how many people file a claim. The final approval hearing for the settlement will take place on September 28th.

“We’re pleased to resolve this matter relating to specific laws in Illinois, and we remain committed to building easy-to-use controls for our users,” Google spokesperson José Castañeda said in a statement to The Verge. “Google Photos can group similar faces to help you organize pictures of the same person so you can easily find old photos and memories. Of course, all this is only visible to you and you can easily turn off this functionality if you choose.”

Last year, Facebook was ordered to pay $650 million as part of another class-action lawsuit in Illinois. The complaint alleged the platform’s now-discontinued Tag Suggestions tool, which analyzed users’ faces in photos and provided suggestions on who the face may belong to, collected and stored biometric data in violation of the state’s biometrics privacy laws. Snapchat also faces a similar class-action lawsuit in Illinois, claiming the service “unlawfully” collects users’ voiceprints and facial geometry data with its various lenses and filters.