Instagram Caught Stealing Biometric Data from Millions

Instagram is accused in a new class action lawsuit filed against Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, of illegally collecting biometric data of consumers without their knowledge or consent. The lawsuit, Facebook vs Whalen, accuses Instagram of having a facial recognition tool that tags and identifies people automatically and then stores those pictures with the tagged faces in a database. While the facial recognition tool isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and Instagram actually discloses this facial recognition software in their terms of service (TOS), the case accuses Instagram’s facial recognition tool of analyzing and collecting scans of the faces of people pictured in other users’ posts, even if they don’t use Instagram and didn’t agree to the terms of service. 

Just last month, Facebook was caught with the same exact face tagging software and offered up to $650 million as recompense. But according to Illinois state law, where the lawsuits have been filed, Instagram/Facebook could face fines of up to $5,000 dollars per individual consumer impacted, meaning that they could face up to $500 billion in fines total. In the US alone, there are over 112 million active instagram users, if they had to pay out every American consumer, it would be over half of their worth. 

Sure, it is highly unlikely that Facebook be giving up over half of their company’s worth in fines, but the message is clear that consumers are beginning to genuinely worry about their data privacy. Gone are the days of people unassumingly clicking “yes” to agree to any terms and conditions. People want to know why their microphone is always listening, and why Instagram seems to know what you’re thinking even before you are.

According to the consumers suing Facebook, Facebook and Instagram work together to increase and make their database of faces more accurate.”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 Illinois law,” the plaintiffs wrote in their complaint.

Of course, Facebook dismissed these claims and allegations referring to them as baseless. In a statement to Business Insider, Facebook spokesperson Stephanie Otway said Instagram does not use facial recognition in the way the Facebook app does. It is tough to believe this, when the parent company of Instagram is fighting the same exact lawsuit from a month ago. GIven how connected and intertwined these two companies are, it is extremely unlikely that Instagram would not use or take advantage of the same data collecting tools and facial recognition software that Facebook would.

It will be interesting to see if these stories pick up a lot of attraction and attention in the media because people are now very concerned about their data. The amount of media attention focused on TikTok right now hopefully leads more consumers to think about what apps they have downloaded and what information they share with those apps.