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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Millions of Illinois Facebook users could be part of class-action lawsuit over photo tagging

 (Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg)
By Ally Marotti Chicago Tribune

Millions of Illinois Facebook users are being notified that they could be involved in a lawsuit over the social media giant’s use of its facial tagging feature.

A court-appointed administrator on Monday began sending emails to users who resided in Illinois for at least 60 consecutive days between June 7, 2011, and mid-April of this year, explaining that they could be parties to a class-action lawsuit against the social network, said Nikki Sokol, associate general counsel at Facebook. Separately, Facebook is sending users who meet those criteria a notification via their accounts, letting them know they may be involved in the lawsuit, and an additional item also will appear in their news feed. The notifications must be sent by Thursday.

“This is to help people understand what their rights are with regard to the lawsuit and that they may be affected by it if they are members of the class,” Sokol said.

The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Chicago in 2015 and later moved to federal court in San Francisco, alleges Facebook violated Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act by failing to obtain written consent from users before creating templates of their faces from photos and by not properly notifying them about how the information would be used or how long it would be kept.

The suit asks the court to award damages of $5,000 for each reckless violation of the Illinois law and $1,000 for each negligent violation. The judge hearing the case granted the suit class-action status in April, and said in his order that damages could amount to billions of dollars.

Facebook, which denies the allegations and is fighting them in court, started rolling out its facial tagging feature for photos in 2010. The social media platform has information on its website regarding the feature and points users toward their settings to disable it, and in December it introduced new tools to help users better manage use of facial recognition.

Just because Facebook users receive a notification does not mean they are involved in the suit, Sokol said. The notifications are going out to potential class members, and users only will be included in the lawsuit if Facebook created templates of their faces from uploaded photos.

The class administrator plans to send out more than 28 million emails, and Facebook notifications will go out to slightly fewer users, Sokol said. That is more than twice the size of Illinois’ population. However, the notifications and emails will go out to more than just permanent residents. Additionally, Sokol said some users have multiple Facebook accounts or multiple email addresses tied to their accounts.

The Facebook notifications will provide users a link to a website that explains the allegations in the lawsuit and their rights as potential class members. If users do nothing, they will continue to be parties to the suit and remain eligible to receive money that may be awarded in the case. If they ask to be excluded, they will not be able to share in any money stemming from the suit.

The Facebook case is expected to go to trial in July.