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Facebook will pay nearly two million people in Illinois $400 for taking their personal data online without permission

2022-05-18T19:15:37.852Z

“We are already past the point where violations of privacy are punished with a slap on the wrist,” says one expert, “misusing the most intimate information of millions of people comes at a cost.”



By David Ingram and Elliott Ramos —

NBC News

The benefits of internet privacy laws can sometimes be hard to fathom: with the right regulations, users can sometimes have a vague assurance that advertisers or the government won't be able to easily snoop on their personal information. 

But this week Illinoisans have received a more tangible benefit: $397.

That money has come by check and direct deposit from a settlement fund created last year after the social network Facebook agreed to settle a class action lawsuit that alleged it had violated the rights of Illinoisans by collecting and storing digital scans of their faces without permission. 

The compensation is restricted to Illinois because of the

state's pioneering Biometric Information Privacy Act,

an unusual rule passed in 2008 that allows consumers in the state to sue companies for privacy violations related to fingerprints, scans of retina, facial geometry and similar data.

This state has been considered one of the most aggressive places in the world in regulating technology companies.

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"It says something interesting about the law that we have here in Illinois that they were able to get Facebook to admit to doing something wrong," said Eric Allix Rogers, 36, who lives in Chicago's South Shore neighborhood and runs events and communications for a non-profit organization.

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Facebook agreed to pay $650 million to end the litigation;

The money will be split among Illinois Facebook users who filed claims, less lawsuit costs and $97.5 million in attorneys' fees.

About

1.6 million people signed up to the deal

in December 2020, and the checks have been rolling in ever since. 

It is the largest settlement ever reached under Illinois law,

and the size of the Facebook payment has prompted other states, including California, to consider similar legislation. 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) used the Illinois law to force a settlement last week with surveillance company Clearview AI, which collected facial prints from online profiles and sold them to clients like police departments. .

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A handful of states, including Texas and Washington, already have

biometric privacy laws,

but none allow consumers to bring lawsuits, known as a private right of action.

This leaves enforcement to government lawyers, as when the Texas attorney general sued Facebook this year over facial recognition software.

The $397 checks stand in stark contrast to the way most citizens experience privacy laws: through pop-ups in their browsers asking for permission to collect data via website

cookies

and other trackers.

Some people say that the current framework makes them feel powerless or upset. 

The checks are so unusual that some people said on social media they thought the money might be a

scam.

But privacy advocates and lawyers said the case could be a model for privacy laws, though it's not clear companies are willing to adopt it.

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“We are already past the point where violations of privacy are punished with slaps on the wrist.

When the most intimate information of millions of people is misused, there is a cost

,” Albert Fox Cahn, director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, a privacy advocacy organization, said in an email.

Meta, the newly renamed parent company of Facebook, did not respond to a request for comment.

In November, months after a federal judge approved the class action settlement, the company said it would drastically scale back its facial recognition system and remove more than 1 billion user facial templates. 

Rogers said the Illinois settlement gives him some reassurance that privacy laws can sometimes have visible benefits. 

"I think we're kind of at a crisis point when it comes to data privacy," he said.

“It really is the Wild West in America for the most part,” she added.

The United States does not have a comprehensive federal data privacy law,

so there is a patchwork of state laws.

And it's rare for citizens to receive payments from tech companies, though politicians like California Gov. Gavin Newsom and former presidential candidate Andrew Yang have proposed requiring tech companies to pay a kind of "dividend" to users.

Rogers, the nonprofit worker, said he would use most of the money to pay down debt, though he said he enjoyed a beer and a hamburger for lunch on Tuesday — his day off — without worrying about what he was spending. 

And in that sense, the $397 checks can act as a financial stimulus for Illinoisans, echoing the federal payments that came through during the pandemic. 

Joe Cacchione, 31, of the Chicago suburb of Lockport, said he planned to use the money to help pay for his wedding.

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"This is going to pay for the wedding rings," he exclaimed.

Although he filed a claim for his share of the settlement in 2020, he said the check was still a surprise.

"There's always a little bit of hesitation when someone says they're going to send you a check for a settlement claim from two years ago," she said. 

Not all of the 12.7 million residents of Illinois are going to get a check.

Facebook's potential user size was 6.9 million, and about 22% of them filed claims, the federal judge overseeing the case wrote last year.

There is ongoing litigation over whether non-Facebook users in Illinois can apply for compensation. 

Cacchione, who works for a software company, said the money helps compensate for Facebook's conduct.

"It's probably a drop of water," he said.

"We still have to do something to prevent big tech companies from buying and selling our data in the future," he added.

Source: telemundo

All news articles on 2022-05-18

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