Facebook face-tagging feature

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Facebook face-tagging feature has landed the world’s biggest social networking firm in court. A judge in San Francisco threw out Facebook’s objection that it cannot be tried using a law passed in the US state of Illinois. The Judge, James Donato, ruled that Facebook had a case to answer on whether the face-tagging feature violated the constitutional rights of the individuals in question.

Facebook face-tagging feature

This is the final stage before the substantive case is heard. The cased is based on 2008 law enacted by the state of Illinois. The so called Biometric Information Privacy Act stated among other things, that firms do not have the right to collect Biometric information of individuals without their consent. The plaintiffs are claiming that the Facebook photo-tagging feature basically collects Biometric information from people’s photos. And they (plaintiffs) did not give Facebook permission to do so. Facebook on the other hand argued that information collected from photographs does not qualify as Biometric information in the first place. Secondly, photo-tagging is in the terms and conditions of using Facebook. So once you accept to use Facebook, consent has being automatically granted.

The Facebook face-tagging feature was launched in the US in December 2010. A few months later it was extended to other Facebook users globally. The feature works by scanning photos posted on Facebook. It then automatically identifies faces of friends and tags them to their names. There was a little controversy when it was introduced because Facebook did not tell users about the feature. The Facebook face-tagging feature was enabled automatically for existing users. While new users had it by default.

Apparently, the people of Illinois have a thing about facial recognition technology. Google is also in the cross hairs of one Illinois resident who claimed that the facial recognition feature in Google Photos violated her right to privacy. And of course, her lawyers would also argue that the feature in Google Photos runs foul of the Biometric Information Privacy Act.

One would think that the lawsuit if successful would have huge ramifications on how Facebook uses the face-tagging feature in the US. This might not necessarily be so. Only Illinois and Texas have laws that could be used against Facebook and Google. On the other hand, success for the plaintiffs in Illinois could trigger country wide lawsuits that might see the case ending up in the Supreme Court. And if the Apex Court decides that the Facebook face-tagging feature (and invariably Google’s) is an infringement on people’s right to privacy, the least that can happen is the tech firms pulling down the service. The other end of the punishment scale could see Facebook and Google paying a lot of money to various individuals and groups as settlement.

Worldwide, this could also have an impact on how tech firms operate. Especially in Western Europeans countries where it doesn’t take much before a US tech firm is hauled to court for one reason or the other.


photo credit: mirror.co.uk