The wait is nearly over for 1.6 million Illinois Facebook users who filed claims in a landmark $650 million biometric privacy settlement.
Their $397 checks should be in the mail beginning May 9, according to Chicago attorney Jay Edelson, who brought the lawsuit against Facebook seven years ago.
“Not only did we demonstrate that privacy cases can put real money back into the pockets of the class, we also showed that, when it comes to securing biometric privacy, the wind is at our collective backs,” Edelson said Friday.
The payouts follow a ruling last month by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which upheld the February 2021 class-action settlement over Facebook’s alleged violations of Illinois’ biometric privacy law. Two Illinois class members, Dawn Frankfother and Cathy Flanagan, who objected to the awarding of $97.5 million in attorneys’ fees agreed they “will not take any further action in this matter,” freeing up the distribution, according to an April 11 court filing.
The settlement class included about 7 million Facebook users in Illinois for whom the social network created and stored a face template after June 7, 2011. To qualify, Facebook users had to live in the state for at least six months over the previous nine years. More than one in five eligible Illinois Facebook users filed a claim by the November 2020 deadline.
The claim form included name, address and preferred payment method. The claims administrator plans to begin mailing checks May 9, Edelson said. Electronic payments will go out in mid-May, and if any transfers are unsuccessful, a check will be issued to the claimant after 30 days.
Class members who successfully filed online received an email confirmation upon submission. Most people who got a notice and submitted a claim were approved, Edelson said.
Estimates of the payouts to class members have ranged between $350 and $400 during the lengthy settlement process. The final tally after expenses and fees is expected to come in at $397 for each class member, subject to final accounting.
In April 2015, Edelson filed the lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court on behalf of plaintiff Carlo Licata, alleging the social media giant’s use of facial tagging features without consent was not allowed under Illinois privacy law. The case was moved to Chicago federal court and then California federal court, where it attained class-action status.
“When we started this case seven years ago, we knew we were in for an enormous fight,” Edelson said. “The ability to collect biometric information was at the core of Facebook’s business and they are one of the most heavily resourced companies in the history of the planet.”
In November, Facebook announced it would shut down its facial recognition system amid “growing concerns” over the widespread use of the technology. As a result, Facebook said it planned to delete more than a billion facial recognition templates it had stored, putting an end to the feature that automatically recognized if people’s faces appear in memories, photos or videos.
The Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, which was passed in 2008, is considered the strictest in the U.S. and requires companies to get permission before using technologies such as facial recognition and fingerprint scans to identify customers.