News & Politics

Federal Judge Gives Go-Ahead for $30 Billion Facebook Privacy Class-Action Suit

A demonstrator waves the European flag as he stands next to life-sized Zuckerberg cutouts to protest against fake Facebook accounts spreading disinformation on the platform, near the EU Commission in Brussels, Tuesday, May 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

While Mark Zuckerberg may have been able to get away scot-free when he testified before Congress, he may have met his match with a suit filed on behalf of Illinois residents.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Chicago in 2015 and subsequently moved to federal court in San Francisco. It accuses Facebook of violating Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act. It claims Facebook did not obtain written consent from its users before creating maps of their faces from photos and then not informing them about how their facial information would be used and how long it would be stored.

The suit has petitioned the court, asking it to award damages of $5,000 for each reckless violation of the Illinois law and $1,000 for each negligent violation. The filing has become a class-action suit and could amount to billions of dollars in fines.

Facebook tried to delay the lawsuit, but on Monday a San Francisco federal judge refused to stop the $30 billion privacy class-action suit in response to an emergency petition filed by the company.

Facebook’s petition to the judge said that having to notify tens of millions of users about the lawsuit will cause reputational harm. But U.S. District Judge James Donato called Facebook’s attempt to halt the suit “unpersuasive.”

The judge, in his four-page ruling, noted, “It is hardly a secret that Facebook is being sued for alleged violations of the Biometric Information Privacy Act and that a jury trial has been set.” He also noted, “Many cases have held that a defendant’s online channels constitute the best practicable notice to individual class members.”

The court began sending out emails on Monday to users who lived in Illinois for at least 60 consecutive days between June 7, 2011, and mid-April of this year, informing them that they could be a part of the class-action lawsuit against Facebook.

Facebook has been accused of capturing information of its users, friends of users, and non-users by online tracking of visits to websites and the use of photo recognition. One of its most controversial activities is shadow tracking those who don’t even have a Facebook account. The company’s fascination with faces as the unique identifier for targeting ads and content is even reflected in a patent granted to them last year that uses face images for determining what to show on their feed.

Forbes reported on the patent:

Techniques for emotion detection and content delivery that captures the users image via the camera to track your emotions when viewing different types of content. Facebook could tie your emotional states when checking out videos, ads or baby pictures and serve up content in the future just by reading your initial state of emotion.

Now, what could go wrong with that?