Is Facebook’s “Faceprint Database” Illegal?

Wednesday, April 08, 2015
(graphic: Electronic Frontier Foundation)

Facebook is the subject of a class-action lawsuit claiming that its “tag a friend” policy violates users’ privacy rights.


Facebook offers users the opportunity to tag photos on the site with their friends’ names. It does this with facial recognition software that compares biometric data in the photos with information stored in the company’s faceprint database.


The lead plaintiff in the case, Carlo Licata, contends this action violates the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act of 2008 because Facebook “actively conceals” what amounts to data mining in the tagging process. Further, Facebook “doesn’t disclose its wholesale biometrics data collection practices in its privacy policies, nor does it even ask users to acknowledge them,” according to the complaint.


Facebook’s facial recognition technology came from the Israeli company, which it later purchased.


Licata says Facebook has “secretly amassed the world’s largest privately held database of consumer biometrics data.”    


In 2012, Facebook said it would delete the facial recognition data and forgo the use of the facial recognition software in Europe. Facebook says that all users may opt out of the tagging feature.


Licata’s not the only person worried about the tagging feature. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota) has criticized the practice, saying “your face is a conduit to an incredible amount of information about you.” He added that unlike a password, a face cannot be replaced or changed. “Unless you turn it off, it’s already been used on you,” Franken said of the tagging feature.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Facebook’s Facial Recognition Violates Privacy, Suit Says (by Emily Field, Law 360)

Facebook Biometric Snooping Called Illegal (by Lisa Klein, Courthouse News Service)

Suit: Facebook Facial Recognition Technology Violates Illinois Privacy Laws (by Tony Brisco, Chicago Tribune)

Facial Recognition Software Creeps Closer to Total Accuracy (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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