There’s another check coming this month for nearly 1.3 million Illinois Facebook users who successfully filed claims in a landmark $650 million biometric privacy settlement.
A second payment of $30.61 was issued beginning Feb. 28 to everyone who cashed their initial $397 settlement check last year in the class action lawsuit. The supplemental distribution represents more than $43 million left over in the settlement fund after nearly 110,000 Illinois class members filed a claim but did not cash the first check.
“All the money goes to the claiming class members, but sometimes people don’t cash the checks,” said Chicago attorney Jay Edelson, who brought the lawsuit against Facebook eight years ago. “So there are distributions later on.”
In May 2022, the settlement fund distributed nearly $550 million — the total after legal expenses — to 1.38 million Illinois Facebook users who filed valid claims in the class action lawsuit. The payments were made by check and electronic transfer. The checks had an original void date of Aug. 8, according to court documents.
The claims administrator reissued nearly 82,000 checks in July to those who had requested but did not successfully process electronic payments. By November, the total number of uncashed checks was 109,434. The last initial checks were voided as of Jan. 14, opening the door for the supplemental payments.
The nearly 1.3 million Facebook users in line for the supplemental check will have received a total of about $428 each from the two payments.
“We’ve always thought that this settlement was, in many ways, a model settlement for class actions,” Edelson said. “This distribution check is larger than a lot of people get in class actions.”
In April 2015, Edelson filed the lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court on behalf of plaintiff Carlo Licata, alleging the social media giant’s use of facial tagging features without consent was not allowed under Illinois privacy law. The case was moved to federal court in Chicago and then California federal court, where it attained class-action status.
The settlement class included about 7 million Facebook users in Illinois for whom the social network created and stored a face template after June 7, 2011. More than 1 in 5 eligible Illinois Facebook users filed a claim by the November 2020 deadline.
In February 2021, a California federal judge issued final approval of the $650 million settlement, but the payout was delayed by more than a year during an unsuccessful appeal filed on behalf of two Illinois class members, who objected to the $97.5 million in attorneys fees, as well as $5,000 incentive awards to the named plaintiffs.
In November 2021, Meta/Facebook announced it would shut down its facial recognition system amid “growing concerns” over widespread use of the technology. As a result, the company said it planned to delete more than a billion facial recognition templates it had stored, putting an end to the feature that automatically recognized if people’s faces appear in memories, photos or videos.
The Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, which was passed in 2008, is considered the strictest in the U.S. and requires companies to get permission before using technologies such as facial recognition and fingerprint scans to identify customers or employees.
Last month, the Illinois Supreme Court opened the door to significantly higher damages in a case involving a Chicago White Castle manager when it ruled that biometric privacy claims accrue every time information is gathered without consent. Under the law, plaintiffs can be awarded $1,000 for negligent violations and $5,000 for intentional violations.
Edelson said the ruling undermines the Illinois law by turning what was a $5,000 claim into one that could run into the millions, based on how many times a thumbprint might be scanned for a single employee.
“That means every suit could potentially bankrupt defendants and that’s not the point of the law.” Edelson said. “So we’re actually working with some legislators on trying to bring the law back to its original intent.”