Amazon May Be Unlawfully Using Its Facial Recognition Technology

Portrait of a woman using facial recognition technology to access her tablet computer – online security concepts

On May 12, 2021, a class-action suit was filed in an Illinois Circuit Court against the tech giant Amazon. The lawsuit alleged that Amazon violated multiple provisions of Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (“BIPA”) by collecting, storing, and analyzing “biometric identifiers” of Amazon Photos users and those appearing in their photos. “Biometric identifiers” are distinctive characteristics, most often physiological (e.g., facial shape, bone structure), used to label and/or describe individuals.

According to the complaint, Amazon uses its image recognition program, Rekognition, to obtain facial scans of any person that appears in a picture uploaded to Amazon Photos. Claiming that Rekognition’s high accuracy is a product of millions of scans conducted on users’ photos, the plaintiffs allege that Amazon utilizes these facial scans to improve Rekognition. As a result, this allows Amazon to sell Rekognition to government agencies and other organizations. Alarmingly, a report cited in the suit states that though Amazon has sold Rekognition to police departments throughout the U.S., Amazon does not know how the police are using its technology.

Amazon Photos (“Photos”) is accessible to all Amazon Prime (“Prime”) members. However, image and facial recognition technology are not automatically enabled for Photos in Illinois, although facial recognition technology is enabled in most other states (which don’t have similar laws to Illinois). Nevertheless, Illinois users are prompted to enable the technology when they begin using Photos. The complaint further alleges that Amazon doesn’t require these users to view the legal information related to Amazon’s data collection before enabling the technology. As a result, when users choose to view the information, it is not accurate.

According to the plaintiffs, the information Amazon provides states that Illinois law “may” require “informed written consent” from an Illinois resident before Amazon can use its technology on a photo, including the resident. Informed written consent means that a person has enough information to make an informed decision and then agrees in writing. Amazon also tells users that the user must obtain informed written consent from individuals in the user’s photos. The plaintiffs maintain that this duty belongs solely to Amazon.

Another major issue raised by the plaintiffs is that not all users can turn off the image recognition software. For example, Prime members can provide a free Photos account to as many as five people by using the “Family Vault” feature. However, only the Prime member can disable the image and facial recognition software. Bottom line: Amazon has been collecting, storing, and analyzing photos of a considerable amount of people without their knowledge or consent and should be held liable for its actions.

B.H. and Hogan are represented by Kenneth Wexler, Justin Boley, and Zoran Tasic of Wexler Wallace LLP; Daniel Gustafson, Karla Gluek, David Goodwin, and Mickey Stevens of Gustafson Gluek PLLC; and Ryan Stephan, James Zouras, and Haley Jenkins of Stephan Zouras LLP.

Amazon’s representation is unknown at this time.

The case is B.H. v. Inc., case number 2021-CH-02330, in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois.

* Lowe & Associates (“The Firm”) is an entertainment and business law firm located in Beverly Hills, California. The Firm has extensive experience handling cases involving invasion of privacy, having provided top-quality legal services to its clients since 1991. The Firm is recognized for its many achievements, including successfully litigating many high-profile cases.

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