Facebook pays $650M to settle facial recognition privacy lawsuit

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Few people genuinely believe that Facebook is an ethical company. After its many scandals, Facebook has lost the trust of hundreds of millions of people around the world. Although that doesn’t stop people from using its services, the company’s reputation isn’t a mystery.

One of its more egregious missteps came several years ago when it was exposed for storing scans from its facial recognition tool without user consent. Now, a judge has approved a settlement that allows the social media giant to put the scandal to rest. It will pay $650 million to end the class-action lawsuit.

Settled at Last

Many people have forgotten about Facebook’s misuse of users’ facial recognition scans since the original lawsuit was filed back in 2015. A long time has passed since then and there have been plenty of other scandals to cover it up. However, the lawsuit has slowly been making its way through the court system towards its eventual resolution.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge James Donato of the Northern District of California approved the $650 million settlement. The order reads, “By any measure, the $650 million settlement in this biometric privacy class action is a landmark result. It is one of the largest settlements ever for a privacy violation, and it will put at least $345 into the hands of every class member interested in being compensated.”

Of course, the payouts aren’t necessarily the most important part of the settlement. Some 1.6 million people will certainly enjoy their portion. More importantly, though, it sets a precedent for what can happen as the result of major privacy breaches.

A $650 million fine isn’t going to spell disaster for Facebook. However, even a company of its size will notice that much money being removed from its coffers.

In a statement, the social media firm said, “We are pleased to have reached a settlement so we can move past this matter, which is in the best interest of our community and our shareholders.”

Changing Behaviors

As noted, the financial portion of the settlement isn’t the most important—even though the number is mind-boggling. In addition to paying the fine directly to its users, Facebook will implement several changes to the way it handles biometric data.

The “Face Recognition” setting will now default to “off” rather than “on” for all users that haven’t opted in to biometric scans. Moreover, Facebook will delete the stored biometric data of the individuals directly involved in the class-action suit. The company will also be distributing a disclosure about how it uses facial recognition templates.

Ultimately, the lawsuit sends a strong signal to the rest of the tech industry. As biometric data becomes more popular with consumers, it also needs to be protected. Due to its sensitive nature, companies can’t start using it without a user’s consent.

It’s clear that stricter data privacy laws are necessary to help keep consumers safe in today’s digital world. Perhaps this settlement will be a starting point for rethinking how companies are allowed to use biometric data.


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