Instagram ‘Illegal Biometric Harvesting’ Leads to California Legal Action against Facebook

by | Aug 13, 2020

In California an accusation that the illegal harvesting the biometric data of over 100 million Instagram users has taken place has resulted in legal proceedings being initiated against Facebook, owner of the image sharing social media platform.

The legal action was filed in Redwood City late on Tuesday evening, titled Whalen v. Facebook, 20-civ-03346, Superior Court of California. It claims that Instagram has knowingly gathered, saved and used the data of the users without their knowledge or consent to make a profit. This comes in the aftermath of Facebook offering, in July, to settle an Illinois lawsuit where it was accused of illegally harvesting biometric data –  through a photo-tagging tool provided to Facebook users – for $650m.

Responding to the filing pf the new legal action Stephanie Otway, a Facebook company representative, released a statement that said: “This suit is baseless. Instagram doesn’t use face recognition technology.”

Reports indicate that the legal action which was filed claims that Facebook is in breach of an Illinois privacy law (the Biometric Information Privacy Act) that prohibits the collection of biometric data without a user’s consent. It the company is found guilty of the breach it could be directed to pay $1,000 per violation.  However, this fine can grow up to $5,000 per violation if it can be proven that Facebook acted recklessly or intentionally.

The service that lead to the Illinois legal action and settlement offer last month is called ‘Tag Suggestions’. This is a process that deploys face-matching software to suggest the names of people in photos uploaded to the network.  The action claimed that Facebook has been gathering collecting facial data without users’ authorization and without providing a timeline for how long that data will be held by the company. Facebook denied the claims made in the legal action despite offering to settle legal action for the aforementioned figure.

Instagram’s online data policy on face recognition states: “If we introduce face-recognition technology to your Instagram experience, we will let you know first, and you will have control over whether we use this technology for you.”

The moves to better police the harvesting and gathering of biometric data have been increased in many jurisdictions recently. The European Commission warned earlier this year that facial recognition tools can be faulty, can violate privacy and can aid criminal activity. Following this the European Union Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager directed EU member states to regulate the use of facial recognition technology themselves.

The General Data Protection Regulation already allows that the data protection agencies in each EU member states are responsible for policing data breaches. There have been some actions taken in relation to gathering facial biometric data, one at a school in Sweden, and there is sure to be calls and legal actions from lobby groups following this lawsuit in the US.


Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

Raise the level of HIPAA Awareness in your organization with Learner-Friendly, Comprehensive and Affordable HIPAA Training.


Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Patrick Kennedy

Patrick Kennedy is a highly accomplished journalist and editor with nearly two decades of experience in the field. With expertise in writing and editing content, Patrick has made significant contributions to various publications and organizations. Over the course of his career, Patrick has successfully managed teams of writers, overseeing the production of high-quality content and ensuring its adherence to professional standards. His exceptional leadership skills, combined with his deep understanding of journalistic principles, have allowed him to create cohesive and engaging narratives that resonate with readers. A notable area of specialization for Patrick lies in compliance, particularly in relation to HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). He has authored numerous articles delving into the complexities of compliance and its implications for various industries. Patrick's comprehensive understanding of HIPAA regulations has positioned him as a go-to expert, sought after for his insights and expertise in this field. Patrick's bachelors degree is from the University of Limerick and his master's degree in journalism is from Dublin City University. You can contact Patrick through his LinkedIn profile:

Raise the level of HIPAA Awareness in your organization with Learner-Friendly, Comprehensive and Affordable HIPAA Training.

Comprehensive HIPAA Training

Used in 1000+ Healthcare Organizations and 100+ Universities

    Full Course - Immediate Access

    Privacy Policy