Facebook violated Illinois law by failing to obtain resident consumers’ consent for using their facial features in the website’s “tagging” feature.
Some 1.6 million Illinois residents can expect to receive $350 from Facebook.
That amount, says The Chicago Tribune, was set as the average individual award for plaintiffs in a massive privacy lawsuit. The exact dollar amount to be paid to Illinois residents was set and approved by a California judge on Thursday.
In total, Facebook will pay about $650 million to settle allegations that it violated Illinois’ biometric privacy laws.
While the awards have been tentatively approved, U.S. District Judge James Donato—who referred to the agreement as “a groundbreaking settlement in a novel area”—is expected to issue a final judgment some time in the coming weeks.
“This is money that’s coming directly out of Facebook’s pocket,” Donato said. “The violations here did not extract a single penny from the pockets of the victims. But this is real money that Facebook is paying to compensate them for the tangible privacy harms that they suffered.”
The Chicago Tribune notes that Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act sets some of the strictest biometric privacy regulations in the United States.
Under the act, social media and other such companies are required to obtain consumers’ explicit consent before using facial recognition and similar technologies to identify customers.
The class action specifically targeted Facebook’s “tag suggestions” feature. That feature, which went live several years ago, allows users to tag friends and acquaintances in different pictures; it was, in effect, a form of artificial intelligence designed to recognize individual users by their facial features and likenesses.
While Facebook may have posited its tagging feature as a convenience, consumer advocates said the company had illegally integrated users’ facial profiles into a database, which was then used to facilitate tag suggestions.
About 1 out of every 5 eligible Illinois users lodged a claim before the November 23rd deadline. However, it may still take months for prospective claimants to receive their due.
While Judge Donato was keen to point towards the large settlement, Facebook attorneys appear to have been relieved they managed to settle the case before it moved to trial.
Michael Rhodes, a California-based attorney who is representing Facebook, earlier told Donato the company could have been liable for “billions and billions of dollars” if the case moved to trial and Facebook lost.
“I mean, $650 million, by any stretch of the imagination is a tremendous sum of money,” Rhodes said. “It’s not something Facebook wants to do. But we’re also rational, intelligent people trying to manage a very significant risk.”
Even if the settlement represents a scarcely-significant dent in Facebook’s yearly earnings, Ars Technica notes that the $350 individual award is unusually large for a class action settlement with hundreds of thousands of potential recipients.