Tech Giants Sued Over Biometric Privacy

Online retail giant Amazon and tech leaders Microsoft and Google are reportedly being sued for allegedly violating a biometric privacy law in the state of Illinois. 

Cases against the companies were brought on Tuesday by two residents of the Prairie State, Steven Vance and Tim Janecyk. 

The plaintiffs allege that the three companies obtained a database from IBM that contained 100 million faceprint pictures scraped from the photo-hosting site Flickr

IBM's Diversity in Faces database was released in January last year. The database was coded to describe the appearance of each subject and touted as a step toward eradicating bias in facial recognition. 

Images added to the database were reportedly taken from Flickr without obtaining the consent of the individuals whose faces were photographed. 

Collecting or storing scans of a consumer's facial geometry without their written consent is outlawed in Illinois under the Biometric Information Privacy Act, passed in 2008. Vance and Janecyk say their images were included in the data set without their consent, despite the fact that they identified themselves as residents of Illinois. 

In four separate class-action lawsuits filed in two different states, the duo alleges that Amazon, Microsoft, Google parent Alphabet, and software company FaceFirst violated Illinois law by obtaining the IBM database "to improve the fairness and accuracy" of their own facial recognition technologies and products. 

According to the suit, the defendants "chose to use and profit from biometric identifiers and information scanned from photographs that were uploaded from Illinois; managed via Illinois-based user accounts, computers and mobile devices, and/or created in Illinois.

"In doing so, [the defendants] exposed Illinois residents and citizens to ongoing privacy risks within Illinois, knowing that [their] conduct would injure those residents and citizens within Illinois."

The lawsuit against FaceFirst was filed in the Central District of California, while the complaint against Google parent Alphabet was brought in federal court in the Northern District of California. The suit against Amazon and the suit against Microsoft were filed in the Western District of Washington.

Vance and Janecyk brought a case against IBM earlier this year for allegedly breaking the same Illinois privacy law when they created the database. That case is pending in Illinois' federal district court.

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