SAN FRANCISCO — A San Francisco federal judge rejected Facebook’s request to toss a lawsuit alleging its photo-tagging feature that uses facial recognition technology invades users’ privacy.
U.S. District Judge James Donato allowed the case to move forward against Facebook under an Illinois law that bans collecting and storing biometric data without explicit consent.
“The Court accepts as true plaintiffs’ allegations that Facebook’s face recognition technology involves a scan of face geometry that was done without plaintiffs’ consent,” Donato wrote in Thursday’s ruling.
Facebook launched the photo-tagging tool in 2010 which automatically matches names to faces in photos uploaded to the social network.
In 2008, Illinois passed a Biometric Information Privacy Act, that requires companies to get consent from consumers before collecting or storing biometric data, including “faceprints,” which is what companies such as Facebook and Google use to identify people in photos.
In March, Google was hit with a lawsuit alleging its photo-tagging system violates Illinois law.
In the case against Facebook, the plaintiffs say they never gave permission for Facebook to use their faces as biometric identifiers.
Facebook argues that photo-tagging is disclosed in its terms of service and that users can opt out of it at any time. It also contended the Illinois law does not apply because its “faceprints” are derived from photographs.
“The statute is an informed consent privacy law addressing the collection, retention and use of personal biometric identifiers and information at a time when biometric technology is just beginning to be broadly deployed,” Judge Donato wrote. “Trying to cabin this purpose within a specific in-person data collection technique has no support in the words and structure of the statute, and is antithetical to its broad purpose of protecting privacy in the face of emerging biometric technology.”
The Menlo Park, Calif., company declined to comment.
“We are pleased with the court’s well-reasoned decision,” said Shawn Williams, a partner at Robbins Geller Rudman and Dowd, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs.
When you are identified in a picture on Facebook, facial recognition software remembers your face so friends can tag you in photographs. The feature is called “tag suggestions” and it’s automatically switched on when someone signs up for Facebook.
Facebook says this helps users. Privacy advocates say the software should only be used with explicit consent. In Europe and Canada, where privacy concerns were raised, Facebook suspended use of the technology.