Facebook says it has agreed to pay $550 million to settle a class-action lawsuit regarding its use of facial recognition technology. The news, reported first this evening by The New York Times, was part of a disclosure the company made as part of its fourth quarter earnings report today.
The case against Facebook has been going on since 2015. The lawsuit alleged that Facebook’s initial version of the its Tag Suggestions tool, which scans a user’s face in photos and offers suggestions about who that person might be, stored biometric data without user consent, violating the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act.
In 2018, Facebook began more transparently explaining its facial recognition tech to users, pointing people to a settings page where they could disable it. Last year, the company decided to make facial recognition on the platform opt-in only, after years of turning it on by default for all users.
A federal judge ruled in favor of making the facial recognition case a class action lawsuit in 2018. Facebook appealed that ruling, but lost the appeal in a 3-0 court decision in August of last year. Facebook’s $550 million settlement will be paid out to eligible Illinois users and to cover the plaintiffs’ legal fees, according to The New York Times. While $550 million may seem like a large settlement, it’s essentially pocket change for Facebook, which today reported revenues of $21 billion for the fourth quarter of 2019.
This isn’t the first time the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act has been tested in court. A plaintiff sued Google in Chicago for allegedly uploading her photos to Google Photos and scanning her face without her permission, but the case was dismissed in 2018 after a judge found the plaintiff didn’t suffer “concrete injuries.” Snapchat has also been sued for allegedly violating the law.