The decision comes days after Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg faced intensive questioning by U.S. lawmakers over the company's collection and use of user data. It alleges Facebook is in violation of an IL state law that prohibits the collection of biometric data without written consent. Damages could be steep - a fact that wasn't lost on the judge, who was unsympathetic to Facebook's arguments for limiting its legal exposure. The plaintiffs want penalties of as much as $5,000 per improper facial image use, which could ultimately result in billions of dollars in damages. But despite Facebook's success in getting the case moved from IL to San Francisco, the judge ruled that "plaintiffs' claims are sufficiently cohesive to allow for a fair and efficient resolution on a class basis". The judge said the potential damages could amount to billions of dollars.
Donato's decision to classify the suit as a class action means Facebook could be sued by millions of users in the state. It revolves around Facebook's "tag suggestions" feature, which uses face biometrics to identify individuals in user photos that have been uploaded to the social media platform.
Facebook used a program called DeepFace to match photos of a person tagged in a picture to other photos of them.
Facebook's immediate response was to have the case transferred to California, the state of its headquarters, as per its user agreement. Now, the same judge who denied the tech giant's 2016 motion to dismiss has given the go-ahead to proceed with a class action lawsuit. "We continue to believe the case has no merit and will defend ourselves vigorously", the company said in a statement, cited by Reuters. In order to do this, Facebook would have to collect users' biometric data to ensure their facial recognition tech would work, triggering privacy concerns.
The company has altered the controversial feature in the time since it was first rolled out to users back in 2011 by adding a more direct notification alerting users to the facial recognition features.