Who owns your face? Believe it or not, the answer depends on which state you live in, and chances are, you live in one that hasn’t even weighed in yet.
That could soon change. For the fourth time this year, Facebook Inc. was hit with a class-action lawsuit by an Illinois resident who says its face-recognition software violates an unusual state privacy law there. The latest complaint, filed Monday, underscores a quiet but high-stakes legal battle for the social networking giant, one that could reverberate throughout the rest of the U.S. tech industry and much of the private sector.
With almost 1.5 billion active users, Facebook has amassed what probably is the world’s largest private database of “faceprints,” digital scans that contain the unique geometric patterns of its users’ faces. The company says it uses these identifiers to automatically suggest photo tags. When users upload new pictures to the site, an algorithm calculates a numeric value based on a person’s unique facial features. Facebook pitches the feature as just another convenient way to stay connected with friends, but privacy and civil rights advocates say the data generated by face-recognition technology is uniquely sensitive, and requires extra special safeguards as it finds its way into the hands of private companies.