Facebook just had a horrible summer. There’ve been two separate lawsuits involving security issues that have cost the social media company $650 million. That amount is only from the first lawsuit settlement, while the second has yet to conclude. Facebook now faces its third lawsuit this year for allegations of spying on Instagram users through their cameras.
These lawsuits are entirely separate but seem to be concerned with similar issues and problems with Facebook’s behavior. Throughout the ordeal, Facebook has maintained their innocence to the public and admits no wrongdoing. Is this all just an elaborate hoax conducted by conspiracy theorists enraged at Facebook or is the social media company participating in some unethical or illegal business practices?
The most recent suit was filed on September 17th in a San Francisco federal court by Instagram user Brittany Conditi. It’s a class-action suit on allegations that Instagram is accessing the users’ camera, watching and recording them whenever using the app. In the complaint, the plaintiff claims that Instagram is “constantly accessing users’ smartphone camera feature while the app is open and monitors users without permission,” along with many other bold assertions. The suit was filed because of information publicized in July, but this isn’t the first case in which Instagram users are concerned with their security.
On August 7th, another class-action lawsuit was filed on allegations that Facebook is illegally collecting the biometric data of over 100 million Instagram users. The plaintiff, Kelly Whalen, maintains that the company is using the facial recognition software available to Facebook users to collect data on Instagram without users’ knowledge or consent. This lawsuit was filed to state court in Redwood City, California, and has yet to conclude. Facebook has responded publicly to these allegations saying the suit is baseless and that Instagram doesn’t use facial recognition technology.
We don’t know yet if Instagram uses facial recognition technology, but Facebook does, and perhaps illegally. In yet another class-action lawsuit that concluded in July, Facebook reached a $650 million settlement after a lengthy legal battle over allegations that it broke the Illinois state law prohibiting businesses from collecting biometric or facial recognition data. Facebook says that they offered the settlement to move past the issue and preserve the community and shareholders’ trust. It also means that because it was a settlement, they were never proven guilty or not guilty.
It might be troubling to think that it’s still mostly unknown exactly how much of our data is being harvested and to what degree. We don’t know if the company has done everything the allegations claim, or if they’ve done nothing illegal at all. Is it covertly harvesting facial recognition data? Is Instagram always watching its users through the camera? It can be terrifying that these are now real questions worth considering but more than worth the thought to stay safe and keep up your guard on social media.