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Lawsuit against Google’s facial recognition dismissed

A lawsuit against Internet giant Google, which has been pending since 2016, was rejected by a US federal judge. As a result, Google may continue to use its face recognition technology.

Published: January 3, 2019, 9:07 am

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    The ruling could also have an impact on other companies like Facebook.

    A US federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Google, which accused the technology company that its face recognition technology was violating users’ privacy rights. But because the case was dismissed, Google may continue to scan and save biometric data.

    The lawsuit, filed in 2016, found that Google violated the law of the state of Illinois by collecting biometric data without the consent of those affected, America’s toughest biometric privacy law. The data is obtained from images stored on Google Photos.

    The plaintiffs sought more than $5 million in compensation for “hundreds of thousands” of affected users and argued that unauthorized scanning of their faces was a violation of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act(BIPA), which prohibits the collection of biometric data without consent.

    Google disputed the allegation and stated that the plaintiffs were not entitled to compensation because they had not been harmed by the data collection. On Saturday, US Federal Judge Edmond E Chang sided with the tech giant and ruled that the plaintiffs had not incurred any “tangible damage” and dismissed the lawsuit as a result.

    Not only will the ruling allow Google to continue the practice, but it could also affect other pending case against Facebook and Snapchat. Both companies are also currently facing trials for the alleged violation of the Illinois Law.

    Google has lobbied hard against BIPA, but the incoming Illinois Attorney General has vowed to resist attempts to weaken the privacy legislation.

    In the midst of increasing resistance from privacy activists, biometric scanning has become more and more ubiquitous in recent years. The technology has been used at US airports and by the British police – though it is unreliable and unregulated in most countries.

    Face recognition can be used to identify faces in crowds using CCTV footage, track the movements of people on public transport networks, and search public places for wanted criminals.

    It is not yet clear if the dismissal will be appealed, but with the Supreme Court decision on the same question of interpretation pending, it seems likely.

    State courts have previously found that an “injury in-fact” was necessary to establish harm in BIPA suits, but in a separate case have also found that damage to plaintiffs’ “property interest” is sufficient to establish harm.

    Alongside Facebook, companies like Epsilon, Equifax and Experian are even more intrusive and actually sell the data of users.

    Facebook is also facing a lawsuit because of its photo tagging feature. Currently, users will be asked if they want to tag the person in a photo because Facebook stores biometric data to identify people is in a given photo. The lawsuit alleges that this violates the privacy act because users do not give permission for their faceprint to be stored by Facebook.

    In April, a judge ruled against a motion by Facebook to dismiss the case brought against it. The tech company, which experienced a rocky 2018 to say the least, faces a class action lawsuit for its tagging technology which allegedly violates the privacy law.

    Companies like Facebook and Google are dangerous due to the power they wield over society, and it now appears that privacy laws won’t suffice to make them accountable.

    In Ireland, facial recognition technology has been used in a less Orwellian manner in tracking and monitoring the movements of dairy cows.

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