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Facebook faces AI law

Facebook's privacy violations are adding up. 


The Mark Zuckerberg-helmed behemoth has agreed to a $550 million settlement following a class-action lawsuit alleging the company violated an Illinois privacy law. So reports the New York Times, which notes that Facebook copped to the settlement in today's earnings call; a call that also happened to include the announcement of $21 billion in fourth quarter revenue.

In other words, the $550 settlement is chump change to the same company that successfully brushed a $5 billion FTC settlement off its shoulder. But that doesn't mean today's news of the settlement doesn't matter. Far from it.


The Illinois law in question, the Biometric Information Privacy Act, requires as a baseline that companies obtain prior consent from people before gathering their biometric data. But that's not all.  The law also requires that companies collecting biometric data establish written policies detailing how long they intend to keep it, along with "guidelines for permanently destroying biometric identifiers and biometric information


The lawsuit alleged that Facebook failed to follow the law when it launched its Tag Suggestions feature in late 2010. That feature suggested the names of people in photos so that users could more easily tag them to a corresponding Facebook account. In order to accomplish this, Facebook reportedly used a form of facial recognition technology. 

Facebook discontinued Tag Suggestions in 2019. 


According to Lauren Gard, a spokesperson for one of the plaintiffs' law firms, affected Illinois residents could receive $200 or more in the settlement. This should be taken with a grain of salt, of course, as Gard wrote over email that the three law firms involved don't know, at this point, how many Illinois Facebook users will make up the class. 


Importantly, the settlement still needs to be approved by the district court.

Back in 2018, a Facebook spokesperson insisted that "we continue to believe the case has no merit and will defend ourselves vigorously." 


It would seem that Facebook's lawyers vigorously defended the company's settlement down to the tune of $550 million. Which, considering that the judge hearing the case, Judge James Donato, wrote in 2018 that "statutory damages could amount to billions of dollars," seems pretty good all things considered. 


Notably, however, Facebook is not out of the privacy-violating woods just yet. The maker of a shady facial-recognition app, Clearview AI, scraped the social media service for billions of its user photos. What Facebook decides to do about that, if anything, remains to be seen. 


Maybe the company can figure out a solution that will cost it even less than the paltry $550 million sum it's agreed to pay this time around. 



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