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Facebook agrees to pay revised $650M to settle face tracking lawsuit

Facebook used users photos without permission.
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After over a decade of Facebook training its facial recognition AI using all our selfies, their day has reckoning has finally come. Sort of.

This all started in 2009. Israeli company Face.com launched Photo Finder, a Facebook plug-in that uses facial recognition to find photos of a user and add tags to them.

Of course, Facebook being uncreative rent seekers, decided to copy this feature and bring it in-house.

In 2012, they ramped up their efforts with “Photo Sync”, which offered free cloud storage for user photos and automatically uploaded them from Android and iOS devices. They already had access to 219 billion photos by this point.

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A mere two years later, Facebook was ready to launch “DeepFace”, which offered “human-level face matching” with an accuracy of 97.25%. Compared to the human average of 97.53%.

This allowed them to redesign how the technology worked with photo tags. They no longer needed to ask if their prediction was accurate. Instead, they started to suggest tags based on who is detected in the photo.

Naturally, this quickly landed them in hot water. In 2015, Illinois residents brought a class action lawsuit against Facebook for violating the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act.

Facebook lost the case in 2016.

Illinois law entitles those affected to up to $5000 if their biometric data was used without consent.

Facebook’s response in late 2019 was to make this behavior opt-in, while continuing to deny that they did anything wrong.

Earlier this year, Facebook agreed to settle the case for $550 million – but this wasn’t enough for overseeing California District Judge James Donato.

“$550 million [is] a lot. But, is it really?” Donato asks. “They are taking what is effectively a 98.75 percent discount off of the amount that the Illinois legislature said might be due.”

He’s right. Even by bumping up the settlement by another $100 million as Donato proposed, that would only entitle each affected user to between $200 and $400. That’s nothing not only compared to Facebook’s revenue numbers, but even to the amount of AI learning and training that Facebook obtained for free using people’s faces and the emotions in their facial expressions.

For some context, Facebook has raked in $21.08 billion in the Q4 2019. $650 million accounts for 3% of their three-month earnings.

Nevertheless, Facebook has agreed to the revised settlement, a new court filing shows.

We obtained a copy of the court filing for you here.

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