Facebook Photo-Scanning Suit Is a Multibillion-Dollar Threat

Facebook Photo-Scanning Suit Is a Multibillion-Dollar Threat

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  • Class-action ruling is major win for users under Illinois law
  • Judge notes company’s worry about exposure to large damages

Facebook Inc. may have to pay a real price for claims it invaded users’ privacy: billions of dollars.


A federal judge ruled Monday that millions of the social network’s users can proceed as a group with claims that its photo-scanning technology violated an Illinois law by gathering and storing biometric data without their consent. Damages could be steep — a fact that wasn’t lost on the judge, who was unsympathetic to Facebook’s arguments for limiting its legal exposure.


The case dates back to 2015, long before Facebook became mired in controversy over revelations that millions of its users’ private information fell into the hands of British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. It’s rare for consumers to win class-action status in privacy cases. In Facebook’s history, most such cases don’t get that far.


Facebook has for years encouraged users to tag people in photographs they upload in their personal posts and the social network stores the collected information. The company has used a program it calls DeepFace to match other photos of a person. Alphabet Inc.’s cloud-based Google Photos service uses similar technology and Google faces a lawsuit in Chicago like the one against Facebook in San Francisco federal court.


Illinois Law

Both companies have insisted in court that gathering data on what you look like isn’t against the law, even without your permission. But under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act of 2008, the companies could be fined $1,000 to $5,000 each time a person’s image is used without consent.

Shawn Williams, a lawyer for the users, said it’s not clear yet whether the lawsuit might prompt changes in the way Facebook uses biometric data.

“As more people become aware of the scope of Facebook’s data collection and as consequences begin to attach to that data collection, whether economic or regulatory, Facebook will have to take a long look at its privacy practices and make changes consistent with user expectations and regulatory requirements,” he said.

Facebook said it’s reviewing the ruling. “We continue to believe the case has no merit and will defend ourselves vigorously,” spokeswoman Genevieve Grdina said in an emailed statement.

Facebook’s Long History of Resolving Privacy Claims on the Cheap

The company “seems to believe” that the lawsuit should be pursued by individuals, not as a group, because “damages could amount to billions of dollars,” U.S. District Judge James Donato wrote in the ruling.

The company argued each individual user could be “aggrieved” differently, and must prove that they suffered an actual injury beyond a privacy right. Nonetheless, the judge said “substantial damages are not a reason to decline class certification,” because he could reduce them at a later stage of the litigation.

The class of users approved by Donato dates back to June 2011, when Facebook had an Illinois user base of more than 6 million people, according to lawyers for the plaintiffs. “Although many individuals may not have had enough tagged photos to generate a face template in Facebook’s database, in January 2011 (i.e., before Facebook implemented tag suggestions for all users) the average user was tagged in 53 photos, far more than the 10 needed to generate a face template,” according to a December court filing.

Privacy advocates have said the billions of images Facebook is thought to be collecting could be even more valuable to identity thieves than the names, addresses, and credit card numbers now targeted by hackers. While those types of information are mutable — even Social Security numbers can be changed — biometric data for retinas, fingerprints, hands, face geometry and blood samples are unique identifiers.

Here Are Some Ways Washington Could Rein In Facebook: QuickTake

When Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg testified in Congress last week over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Illinois Senator Richard Durbin accused the company of trying to water down the state’s biometric privacy law.

“I’m afraid Facebook has come down to the position of trying to carve out exceptions to that,” the Democrat said, according to a transcript of the April 11 hearing. “I hope you’ll fill me in on how that is consistent with protecting privacy.”

The Illinois residents who sued argued the 2008 law gives them a “property interest” in the algorithms that constitute their digital identities. The judge has agreed that gives them grounds to accuse Facebook of real harm.

Facebook, which got the case moved to San Francisco from Illinois, argued the users hadn’t suffered a concrete injury such as physical harm, loss of money or property; or a denial of their right to free speech or religion.

Courts have struggled over what qualifies as an injury to pursue a privacy case in lawsuits accusing Facebook and Google of siphoning users’ personal information from emails and monitoring their web-browsing habits. Suits over selling the data to advertisers have often failed.

Donato has ruled that the Illinois law is clear: Facebook has collected a “wealth of data on its users, including self-reported residency and IP addresses.” Facebook has acknowledged that it can identify which users who live in Illinois have face templates, he wrote.

Donato previously rejected Facebook’s argument that the case had to be dismissed because the attempt to enforce Illinois law runs afoul of its user agreement that requires disputes to be resolved under the laws of California, where it’s based.

The case is In re Facebook Biometric Information Privacy Litigation, 15-cv-03747, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco). 

Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-04-16/facebook-must-face-group-suit-claiming-it-stole-biometric-data

Chinas Economic Growth Remains Robust Amid Strong Retail Sales

China’s economic expansion held up amid robust consumer spending, underpinning global growth and giving authorities more room to purge excessive borrowing.


Steady growth offers support for President Xi Jinping’s mission to shore up financial stability, one of Beijing’s top goals along with reducing poverty and curbing pollution. The robust pace of expansion is a tailwind for the global economy seen maintaining its solid performance this year, providing needed support in the form of strong demand for China’s exports.  

“Economic indicators are robust,” Xia Le, chief Asia economist at Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA in Hong Kong, said before the release. “Growth headwinds remain in place, mainly from domestic policy tightening and trade skirmishes from the U.S. Growth is most likely to moderate through the year.”  

  • Gross domestic product grew 6.8% in the first quarter from year earlier
  • That matches both the previous quarter’s pace and the projections in a Bloomberg survey
  • Retail sales increased 10.1% in March from a year earlier, vs a forecast of 9.7%
  • Industrial production rose 6.0% last month; forecast 6.3%
  • Fixed-asset investment climbed 7.5% in the quarter
  • A new urban surveyed-jobless rate stood at 5.1% at end-March

People’s Bank of China Governor Yi Gang last week said economic indicators performed better than expected in the first quarter amid continued improvement in the global outlook.


Headwinds may strengthen in coming months should Xi’s so-called critical battles against financial risk and pollution bite deeper or if trade tensions with the U.S. intensify. Property and infrastructure activity will weaken in the second half, though manufacturing investment, solid consumption and strong external demand will cushion the impact, says UBS Group AG.

Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-04-17/china-economic-growth-remains-robust-amid-strong-retail-sales

Landlords are social parasites. Theyre the last people we should be honouring | Rhik Samadder

Rhik Samadder: The landlord of the year is announced but most buy-to-let opportunists make their tenants lives hell giving them a prize is like giving Stalin a humanitarian award

The landlord of the year award is announced on Monday, bestowed by the home insurance provider Home Protect. Landlords often get a bad rap, the CEO explains on its website, and Ill stop him there. They dont get a bad enough rap.

When they do make the news, you already know the story. Tory landlords dragging their absentee, ancient arses into parliament solely to vote down a bill that says rented properties should be fit for human habitation. Lockdown landlords bleeding councils dry, installing vulnerable people in micro-units, with inadequate fire provisions, so they can soak up treble the housing benefit. Who can forget the competition in the Daily Mail that offered up a buy-to-let property as top prize? This, from a paper that crucifies scroungers. Scroungers being people who live off others, and shirk their responsibilities. But back to landlords, eh?

Landlord of the year. Lol! Rofbhawuild! (Rolling on the floor, banging my head against the wall until I lose my deposit.) Who is it going to be? One who lets you have a pet? Some of my friends are landlords, and Im sorry to say it, but they are going straight to hell too. Imagine how satisfyingly overcrowded the underworld must be with landlords; partitioning the seventh circle into seven more circles, charging each other extra for underfloor heating. The best thing you can say about them is that they are better than letting agents. But thats like giving Stalin a humanitarian award for massacring fewer people than Genghis Khan. The fact is, theyre all rogue. Whether your landlord is a genial profiteer or an actual psychopath is the luck of the draw. Anyone can be one, if they have made enough money or inherited property, and those are two of the worst qualifications imaginable. Like anyone who thrives off the housing crisis, they are social parasites.

I wonder what is meant by a good private landlord, worthy of recognition. Someone who charges below insane market rates, purely by choice? Who pays for top-quality repairs, when they could get a mate to do a botched job on the cheap? Who offers long-term secure tenancies, despite the fact there is no legal minimum? Who refrains from revenge evictions? Who isnt Fergus Wilson? Someone who displays basic human decency, in an unregulated sector that encourages its opposite? Who acts, in other words, not like a landlord at all?

If you are an oldster with a lodger, Im sure youre fine. But its the buy-to-let vampires, monopolising new builds, setting social inequality in stone, who define the term today. Try to understand these characters, so money-driven that they view peoples need to sleep indoors as the chance to turn a tidy profit. (Having said that, the main cause of homelessness in the UK is, by a long way, the termination of short-term tenancies, so maybe theyre not that committed to it.) No pets, no posters, no parties. Thats their mantra. No repairs. Dont wear down the crap carpet. Just sit on a damp mattress and cough up the cash. All so they can keep expanding, squatting over lives like feudal incubi. If youre one of these people, you can shove your property portfolio up your arse. And make sure you leave room for your award.

The notion of houses as investment opportunities of any sort has been a cancer. Heres a radical idea: buy a home if you can, then live in it, and do something else with your time. Something that isnt about exploiting the less privileged. Apologies for taking a Daily Mail-sounding stance on this, but landlords: get a proper job.

Its official: it takes 90 hours to make friends. Whos got that long?

A University of Kansas professor studying friendship has concluded that it takes more than 50 hours of shared time to become anything more than an acquaintance, 90hoursto develop a friendship, and more than 200 hours of time together to become close friends. Asan introvert who lives in a city, Isee the people Ireally like about twice a year maximum, so we shouldmake the grade by the timewere 100 years old.

Time and activities in a developing friendship can be thought of as strategic investments toward satiating long-term belongingness needs, says the studys author, Jeffrey Hall, which makes me sure that, if we were friends, Id call him Prof and wed get into mismatched scrapes together, adorably. The types of experience matter, too hours spent working together dont count for as much, he has decided. Im not so sure; some of the best relationships of my life have revolved around bitching about bosses, creative slacking and covering for each other. But then, I never actuallydid any work at work.

It strikes me that the character ofreal life relationships often boring, sometimes resentful, even harrowing has no online analogue. I never felt closer to any people thanthose with whom I was once stuck in a remote French cottage. The septic tank became clogged, andthe toilet wouldnt flush. A few days, during which you cannot poo,feels like an eternity. It was astonishing how colonic our conversations grew, and how quickly. A practical girl called Kate eventually climbed into the tank to plunge it. Supervising from a safe distance, as flecks of all of our previous faeces kicked up on to her arms, I knew in my gut that we would be friends for life. Youwerentthere, man.

Strawberries filthy Photograph: mikroman6/Getty Images

And the prize for filthiest fruit goes to

It has been revealed that strawberries and spinach are the dirtiest fruit and veg. This is surprising; I always thought there was something inestimably perverse about parsnips. Of course, there issomething deliciously filthy about a fig, and dont get me started on kumquats. Theyre all passion fruits, if you ask me, lads. It turns out that the US Environmental Working Group, which made the announcement, is talking about pesticide residue on produce, which is a bit of a mood killer. Best to go organic, it says. Oraunatural, as Ive been asked to stop calling it.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/apr/16/landlords-social-parasites-last-people-should-be-honouring-buy-to-let