By Rhodilee Jean A Dolor
Search engine giant Google agreed in May to settle a class action lawsuit alleging that it violated an Illinois law designed to protect consumer biometrics data.
The law called Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) requires companies to first secure permission before collecting people’s data such as fingerprints and facial scans. It also mandates companies to safeguard the collected information and bars them from selling these data
Better and Targeted Services for Consumers
Over the course of 14 years since the law was passed in 2008, new technologies emerged, which enabled companies to easily harvest data from consumers. By collecting users’ fingerprints, facial scans, location data and visited links, apps and technologies enable companies to provide more targeted and better services to consumers.
Some smart TVs now have a built-in camera that uses facial recognition to detect who is watching. From there, the set directs the person to the shows that he likes giving a more personalized experience to the user.
Financial institutions also use facial recognition to prevent fraud and theft. If you are a new customer, your bank may require you to take a selfie on your phone. The image should match the photo in the government ID that you submitted to authenticate your identity.Phones, tablets and computers also collect fingerprint data to provide users with a more convenient way to unlock their gadgets and access features and services.
Tracking and data collection have a range of applications for consumers. The weather app on mobile phones can forecast whether it will be a sunny or a rainy day based on the user’s local conditions.
Fast food apps tell consumers where to find their nearest stores and dating apps help people find potential dates in their area. Apps used for driving directions, shopping, fitness, and search also rely on location data.
Location tracking apps can be particularly helpful. In April, a woman from Georgia found her 9-year-old son who was inside her stolen car using Find my iPhone, an app that uses location data.
“Ms. Moore was able to track her son’s iPhone using ‘my location’ and relay real time tracking information to officers. Atlanta Police with the assistance of Georgia State Patrol (GSP), Fulton County PD and the Fulton County Sheriff’s responded and used the tracking information to work at locating the vehicle,” the Atlanta Police Department said.
Data collection is now a lucrative industry, companies have started selling the information they collect to third parties like advertisers and even law enforcers.
Analyzing consumer data allows companies to better understand their target market so they can create appealing and more sellable products and services.
“Advanced analytics are making it possible to more accurately predict future consumer behaviors and to use that analysis to strengthen relationships with those customers,” explained Harry Glaser, co-founder of data analytics firm Periscope Data, which was bought by business intelligence software company Sisense in 2019.
“By combining machine learning models with modern data analysis platforms, companies are quickly able to identify their high-value customers and dynamically improve their experiences on the fly based on data in real time.”
In 2021, the size of the global location intelligence market is already worth $14 billion. It is projected to grow more at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.6% from 2022 to 2030.
The same scenario is seen in the global facial recognition market, which is worth $5.01 billion in 2021. Amid growing demand, the industry is forecasted to be worth $12.67 billion by 2028.
Despite the many beneficial uses of consumer data, collection, sharing and sale of consumer information bring about privacy and security issues.
A 2021 report by Justin Sharman, a cyber policy fellow at Duke University’s Technology Policy Lab, reveals that data brokers have no qualms selling sensitive information of millions of Americans, which exposes consumers to serious risks.
“Data brokers are openly and explicitly advertising data for sale on U.S. individuals’ sensitive demographic information, on U.S. individuals’ political preferences and beliefs, on U.S. individuals’ whereabouts and even real-time GPS locations, on current and former U.S. military personnel, and on current U.S. government employees,” the report reads.
“People-search websites aggregate public records on individuals and make it possible for anyone to search for major activist figures, senior military personnel, and other individuals—uncovering home address, phone number, and other information as well as the names of known family members and relatives.”
In a lawsuit filed against location data broker Kochava, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) claimed that the company sold the geolocation on millions of smartphones, exposing people’s visits to sensitive locations like medical facilities, places of worship and domestic violence shelters and addiction recovery centers.
“The FTC alleges that Kochava fails to adequately protect its data from public exposure. Until at least June 2022, Kochava allowed anyone with little effort to obtain a large sample of sensitive data and use it without restriction,” the FTC said.
A slew of other lawsuits ensued amid increased use of consumer data. In May, Facebook started paying claimants of a $650 million settlement stemming from a lawsuit accusing the social media company of collecting and storing users’ biometric data without consent.
The video sharing app TikTok was also slapped with a similar lawsuit for collecting biometric data from users and then disclosing these to third party companies without the consent of those affected.
In the class suit filed against Google, the plaintiffs accuse the tech giant of violating their state’s BIPA when it collected, stored and organized their pictures as part of the Google Photos Face Grouping feature sans their proper notice and consent.
All three cases were filed in Illinois by residents who invoked the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act, arguably the strictest law in the US for protecting people’s biometrics data.
The favorable court decisions and settlements for these three cases suggest that while the risk of data exposure still exists, there is a way to push back against companies that may take advantage of people’s personal data.
Consumers will be able to appreciate the perks of data-based technologies when authorities come up with sound policies designed to protect people’s sensitive information.