Facebook Judge Frowns on Bid to Toss Biometric Face Print Suit

  • Company is fighting class action under Illinois privacy law
  • Social network owner argues users haven’t shown they’re harmed
Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Facebook Inc. faced a skeptical judge over its second request to get out of a lawsuit alleging its photo scanning technology flouts users’ privacy rights.

“The right to say no is a valuable commodity,” U.S. District Judge James Donato said Thursday during a hearing in San Francisco. The case concerns the “most personal aspects of your life: your face, your fingers, who you are to the world.”

The owner of the world’s largest social network faces claims that it violated the privacy of millions of users by gathering and storing biometric data without their consent. Alphabet Inc.’s Google is fighting similar claims in federal court in Chicago.

If Donato lets the case proceed, Facebook is still potentially on the hook under an Illinois law for fines of $1,000 to $5,000 each time a person’s image is used without permission. A victory for consumers in the class action could lead to new restrictions on Facebook’s use of biometrics in the U.S., similar to those in Europe and Canada.

A lawyer for Facebook argued Thursday that plaintiffs haven’t shown they were harmed by its practices. An attorney for the consumers contended the mere collection by Facebook of biometric data runs afoul of the Illinois law and that the case should move forward without any showing of harm.

“The point is Illinois gave its citizens the right to say no,” Donato said. “The allegation is Facebook usurped that right. That is not a mere technicality in my view.”

Donato previously rejected Facebook’s argument that the case had to be dismissed because the attempt to enforce Illinois law runs afoul of its user agreement that requires disputes to be resolved under the laws of California, where it’s based.

The case is In re Facebook Biometric Information Privacy Litigation, 15-cv-03747, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco). The Google case is Rivera v. Google, 16-cv-02714, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

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