Facebook has moved to make Chicago’s federal courtrooms the place to try a class action suit pending against the social media giant over the company’s so-called tag suggestion feature.
On May 6, Facebook filed notice in Chicago of its intent to remove to federal court the lawsuit that had been filed against it a month earlier in Cook County Chancery Court.
Facebook, based just outside of Palo Alto, Calif., notes in its filed removal notice the class action could involve many thousands of class participants, and potentially more than $5 million in damages. Since Facebook is based in California and the named plaintiff in the case is a resident of Illinois, Facebook argues, under the federal Class Action Fairness Act, the case should be removed from the county’s circuit courts to the federal Northern District of Illinois.
The potential class action was brought by plaintiff Carlo Licata on April 1 in the wake of Facebook’s decision to introduce a new photo tagging system. Developed by Face.com, a company Facebook acquired, the system uses facial recognition technology to recognize people in photos posted by users. Facebook then asks users posting the photos if they wish to “tag” their friends – attaching a marker to the photo identifying the people in the photo they may know.
While Facebook has marketed the feature as a “convenience feature,” Licata argues the new system represents a “surreptitious collection, use and storage” of “biometric data” of Facebook’s users.
He accuses the company of being “calculatedly elusive” in explaining the system to users. And the company does not provide a release from users authorizing the collection of their “faceprints,” or a readily available policy describing how it will retain and potentially permanently destroy users’ biometric data.
Licata said these issues represent violations of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, which regulates the collection, use and storage of biometric identifiers by companies and others. So-called faceprints would count as such biometric data, according to the complaint.
Licata has asked the court to order Facebook to shut down the suggested tag system and award damages to him and the proposed class.
He has requested statutory damages of as much as $5,000 per violation. In its removal notice, Facebook notes, even if the class were limited to 2,000 participants, the potential damages demand would stand at $10 million.
Licata and the potential class are represented by attorney Jay Edelson, of Edelson PC, of Chicago.
Facebook is represented in the action by attorneys Vincent Connelly and Michael D. Frisch, of Mayer Brown LLP, of Chicago. They are joined by attorney Lauren R. Goldman, of Mayer Brown’s New York office and Achis A. Parasharami, of the firm’s Washington, D.C., office.
Legal Newsline contributed to this report.