Although Americans, by and large, may seem unconcerned about their eroding civil right to privacy and freedom from warrantless searches, a growing number of people are striking back through legal channels.
Every day, without our knowledge or consent, data uploaded by willing consumers to hosting websites are being sold down the river – or stolen – by third-party interests. Consumer data harvested this way is used to target the person who provided the information inventory in the first place with directed marketing advertising.
Not only is this practice offensive to many people, it is a clear violation of privacy laws. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) agreed and, on July 2019, fined Facebook an unprecedented $5 billion fine for privacy violations related to Cambridge Analytica’s allegedly covert data theft:
“Facebook, Inc. will pay a record-breaking $5 billion penalty, and submit to new restrictions and a modified corporate structure that will hold the company accountable for the decisions it makes about its users’ privacy, to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that the company violated a 2012 FTC order by deceiving users about their ability to control the privacy of their personal information.” [emphasis added]
Joe Simons, FTC Chairman, commented on how voluntary compliance is not working at Facebook:
“Despite repeated promises to its billions of users worldwide that they could control how their personal information is shared, Facebook undermined consumers’ choices. The magnitude of the $5 billion penalty and sweeping conduct relief are unprecedented in the history of the FTC.”
The goal of the FTC fine is to hurt Facebook in the wallet enough to persuade the global online dominator to change its evil ways:
“The relief is designed not only to punish future violations but, more importantly, to change Facebook’s entire privacy culture to decrease the likelihood of continued violations. The Commission takes consumer privacy seriously, and will enforce FTC orders to the fullest extent of the law.”
Facebook just keeps rolling along, though, despite many legal losses.
Last week, on August 8, 2019, a federal appeals court denied Facebook corporate’s attempt to shelve a facial recognition class action lawsuit that claims the social media giant “illegally collected and stored biometric data for millions of users without their consent.”
The suit was brought by Illinois users who now have the green light to pursue privacy justice, to the tune of billions of dollars in damages, potentially. Attorney Shawn Williams, representing the plaintiffs, said:
“This biometric data is so sensitive that if it is compromised, there is simply no recourse. It’s not like a Social Security card or credit card number where you can change the number. You can’t change your face.”
Facebook will continue to appeal, stating:
“We have always disclosed our use of face recognition technology and that people can turn it on or off at any time.”
[For the record, this writer has had a Facebook account for years and was not aware until researching this article that the company was exploiting biometric data as well as text and images.]
In 2015, the group of Illinois Facebook users claimed that the company’s action of gathering their personal biometric information and storing it violates a state law passed in 2008 called the Biometric Information Privacy Act.
Circuit Judge Sandra Ikuta noted in her written decision that the Illinois law was passed to safeguard the “concrete interests in privacy” for all residents and shot down Facebook’s legal argument that each user’s claims were unique and therefore necessitated individual lawsuits rather than a class action.
The case now returns to its roots in San Francisco, California, where U.S. District Judge James Donato certified a class action in April 2018. A trial date has not yet been set.
The cash penalties mandated by the Illinois biometric privacy law are $1,000 for each negligent violation and $5,000 for each intentional or reckless violation. The class in this action could add up to 7 million Facebook users. That amounts to $7-35 billion.
The FTC says that Facebook daily users number more than 185 million in the U.S. and Canada. The company monetizes user information through targeted advertising which accounted for most of the $55.8 billion in corporate 2018 revenues. Facebook lures users into sharing their private information by misstating that users can control the privacy of their own information through account privacy settings.
The FTC imposed a 20-year settlement order on Facebook which changes the way the company makes privacy decisions through more transparent decision-making. The company will be held accountable by means of overlapping channels of compliance.
This is a good start and shows that not every American is asleep with their eyes wide open. Hats off to the Illinois Facebook users who are crying Shenanigans on data theft and slack privacy online.
Will the pending class action lawsuit will be the small pebble that creates a huge avalanche of public outcry against callous, unkind, and uncaring corporate megalomaniacs who view their customers as prey?
Privacy advocates have their fingers crossed that the tide of public apathy over individual privacy is turning.