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Millions in biometric data privacy lawsuit settlements continue to pile up

2 proposed BIPA settlements; Twitter sued; judges stand firm on accrual
Millions in biometric data privacy lawsuit settlements continue to pile up

It’s another busy day for biometric privacy plaintiffs in the U.S. state of Illinois.

A regional grocery chain and Instagram both have agreed to settle proposed class actions. Another putative class action has been filed, this time against Twitter’s owner, X Corp. And in a split decision, the Illinois Supreme Court has declined to rethink its damages-multiplying accrual ruling.

The grocer, New Albertsons, this week agreed to settle a proposed class action involving voiceprints for $1.1 million, a paltry sum compared to other cases brought under Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act.

Voiceprints are more nuanced than are other biometrics and could invite more uncertainty in a courtroom in the form of differing expert assessment of case facts.

An employee of Jewel-Osco, a subsidiary of Albertsons, accused the firm of collecting and storing employee voiceprints without consent. The class is 1,001 people each of whom could be awarded $1,075 if the decision is finalized by a judge, according to trade publication Law360.

Goree v. New Albertsons (case 1:22-cv-01738) began in state court in January 2022 and moved in April to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern Division of the state’s Northern District. The defendant first moved to dismiss and then moved to put the case in arbitration. Neither effort was successful.

Distribution center workers allegedly used a voice-recognition system, Honeywell’s Vocollect Talkman, in their duties.

Albertsons maintained that neither biometric identifiers nor biometric information as defined by BIPA were collected.

The financial stakes are many times higher in Parris v. Meta Platforms (case 2023LA0000672 in the Eighteenth Circuit Court in Illinois), a proposed class action. The litigants have agreed to a $68.5 million payout for people who allegedly suffered harm when Instagram reportedly harvested and held subscribers’ identifiers in violation of BIPA.

It will be the second major payout by Meta, if approved, following a $650 settlement by Facebook.

X Corp., parent of Twitter, also has been named in a proposed BIPA class action.

In Martel v. X Corp. (case 2023CH06416), the company is accused of collecting and saving biometrics in violation of BIPA. X Corp. allegedly had been trying to rid its service of pornographic and similarly controversial information since 2015.

In doing so, subjects in posted photos had their face biometrics gathered without their permission, according to the plaintiff.

And in a decision guaranteed to aggravate dyspepsia in business classes, Illinois’ Supreme Court has decided against rehearing a case that ended with holding defendants liable for each time that biometric data is harvested.

Three of the justices felt differently, according to Law360, reportedly saying that open-ended accrual of biometric violations under BIPA creates “a staggering degree of uncertainty,” according to the publication. There is too little implementation guidance for judges, the minority opinion held.

There is growing sentiment that BIPA could end up punishing violators so harshly that some will fail.

One defendant, BNSF Railway, will get a chance to lower the $228 million that was awarded in a class-action victory for truck drivers who were forced to give up biometric data in order to enter Illinois railyards.

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