Lawsuit accuses Google of stealing faces

Google was accused Friday in a lawsuit of illegally collecting “face templates” from hapless citizens whose images had ended up in Google Photos. Illinois resident Joseph Weiss filed a class-action lawsuit in U.S. district court in Illinois, alleging that Google broke state law by keeping people’s personal biometric information without written consent.

“Google creates these templates using sophisticated facial recognition technology that extracts and analyzes data from the points and contours of faces that appear in photos taken on Google ‘Droid’ devices and uploaded to the cloud-based Google Photos service,” the lawsuit said. “Each face template that Google extracts is unique to a particular individual, in the same way that a fingerprint or voiceprint uniquely identifies one and only one person.

“These unique face templates are not only collected and used by Google Photos to identify individuals by name, but also to recognize their gender, age and location. ”

The templates were harvested from photos of “thousands of unwitting Illinois residents,” the suit alleged. Damages from Google’s actions exceed $5 million, the lawsuit said. The lawsuit cited 2012 testimony from U.S. Sen. Al Franken in the Senate, concerning the potential for abuse of facial-recognition technology, for example “to not only identify protesters at political events and rallies, but to target them for selective jailing and prosecution.”

In January, a federal judge in Chicago allowed a lawsuit to proceed against scrapbooking service Shutterfly over its database of individuals’ facial geometry. That suit followed a similar one against Facebook filed last April. Both companies have argued that the Illinois law in question only applies to biometric data from in-person scans.

Regarding the Weiss lawsuit, Google said it didn’t comment on pending litigation.

Photos: Google logo (KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)


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  • Whacky. The cost of free services is this. Likewise, what was the harm caused? Sounds like a lawyer trying to make a boat payment.