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Facebook coughs up $550 million to put facial recognition controversy to bed

Facebook is having to shell out $550 million to people upset by its controversial ‘Tag-Suggestions’ facial recognition feature.

You’re probably familiar with this system if you’re a Facebook user. Thanks to this facial-recognition software, hovering over someone’s face in a photo would bring up their name, suggesting that you tag said person in the pic.

Related: How to stop Facebook tracking you when you’re not on Facebook

The feature rang alarm bells for Illinois users when it was first introduced, as they have a uniquely strict law over there. The state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act forbids companies from collecting biometric info without users’ express consent, and the Act also states that companies have to provide clear outlines on how that data will be stored and when it will be destroyed (via Boston Herald).

Cue a class-action lawsuit from Illinois-based Facebook users in 2015, who didn’t think that Facebook was measuring up to this standard. The users claimed that they hadn’t given permission for facial data harvesting – and also that Facebook hadn’t told them how long this info would be stored.

Facebook, of course, said that this was all a load of tosh. (Note: definitely not a direct quote.)

The settlement sum was first announced as part of Facebook’s Q4 earnings, which also revealed slow growth for the company. Following the announcement, a Facebook spokesperson said: “We decided to pursue a settlement as it was in the best interest of our community and our shareholders to move past this matter.”

The ‘tag-suggest’ feature was disabled for EU users back in 2012 after a report from the Irish Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) was published. This laid out a string of new privacy recommendations, which left Facebook scurrying around trying to tidy up its privacy settings.

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Related: How to delete a Facebook account

But Facebook sneakily reintroduced the feature a couple of years ago, cleverly pitching it as a new tool that would protect users’ privacy by detecting if someone had stolen a picture and created a fake profile. Hmmm.

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