Instagram rocked by action over ‘illegal’ biometic data

insta2Instagram might have escaped the data protection scandals of its Facebook parent so far but that looks all set to change with a new lawsuit which alleges that the social media app has collected the biometric data of up to 100 million users without their consent.

The Whalen v Facebook lawsuit was filed this week in a state court in Redwood City, California, where the tech giant has its HQ.

Court papers allege: “Once Facebook captures its Instagram users’ protected biometrics, it uses them to bolster its facial recognition abilities across all of its products, including the Facebook application, and shares this information among various entities. Facebook does all of this without providing any of the required notices or disclosures required [by law].”

Ironically, many people – especially those aged under 40 – have ditched Facebook because of its privacy record, with Instagram growing much quicker than its parent site.

And, while Facebook still has way more active monthly users, 2.6 billion compared to Instagram’s 1 billion, the latter achieves four times the engagement, thanks to the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo (230 million followers), Ariana Grande (194m), Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (190m),  Kylie Jenner (185m) Selena Gomez (183m) and Kim Kardashian (179m).

It is claimed that Instagram could be fined up to a $1,000 for each violation if found guilty of breaking the US Biometric Information Privacy Act, which requires user consent for collecting such information.

However, if it is found to have gathered the data illegally and acted recklessly or intentionally, the fine increases to $5,000 per violation, amounting to a fine of up to $500bn, although given the power that Facebook wields in the US, that would seem highly unlikely.

Facebook offered to pay $650m in a similar lawsuit last month that was taken against the company’s main platform, according to Bloomberg. That lawsuit referred to a photo-tagging tool on Facebook that used facial recognition software to suggest names of people within a user’s social network. The company deleted its tagging database in 2012.

In response to the latest legal challenge, Facebook described the lawsuit as “baseless”, with a spokesperson adding: “Instagram doesn’t use face recognition technology.”

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