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Some big names sweated a hot summer with biometric privacy court cases

Some big names sweated a hot summer with biometric privacy court cases
 

It’s a brand-name roundup of biometric information privacy lawsuits today, with Clearview AI, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon battling in court across the United States.

The runt of this litter is Fresh Thyme Market, a regional supermarket with warehouse employees in the Midwest state of Illinois, home to the Biometric Information Privacy Act.

A judge this week rejected defendant’s Fresh Thyme’s motion to dismiss a BIPA putative class action (case 1:22-cv-06541) brought by employees in U.S. District Court.

The grocer, a DBA of Lake Ventures, is accused of making backroom workers use Honeywell’s voice-biometric Vocollect communications network without first getting their consent or telling them how their identifiers would be managed.

New warehouse employees allegedly were enrolled using their voices on headsets and they used them ever workday afterward.

Contrary to Fresh Thyme’s motion, the judge found that the worker-plaintiffs have plausibly described their accusations of privacy violations, according to legal industry publisher Law360. The grocer’s claim that class action is not appropriate was dismissed, too, because it is not clear how many employees could participate.

A Google claim remanded to state court

A U.S. judge in the Central Illinois District of Illinois remanded a claim in a BIPA suit involving Google. The judge found that that particular claim did not have federal standing, according to reporting by Law360.

This putative class action (1:21-cv-01122) could bring out more interest in BIPA because it involved biometric identifiers of school children using Google’s Workspace for Education applications in the classroom.

The remaining federal court case will continue. Parents allege that Workspace harvests and stores children’s biometric identifiers without their consent.

Next step in Clearview’s settlement

Both sides in the BIPA case (1:21-cv-00135)against Clearview AI have informed the court that progress continues to an agreement that can be reviewed by a judge. It is noteworthy only in that a review by the judge – one of the (many) final steps – could come by month’s end.

Microsoft BIPA case refocused in court

Another judge in the Northern District of Illinois judge has pared back the issues to be heard in a proposed BIPA class action aimed at Microsoft.

An analysis of the move by law firm Proskauer Rose (which appears to misidentify the district) sees the slightest reason for optimism by BIPA defendants in the judge’s move. The article says it “may add some weight to the scale on the side of defendants.”

The U.S. district judge issued a complex and nuanced finding that rejected some motions to dismiss by Microsoft but not all, and those dismissals granted were without prejudice, which means the plaintiffs can address noted failings and refile.

Perhaps the most notable result is the judge’s opinion that a company cannot violate BIPA unless it takes a step to gain possession of biometric identifiers.

This case involves an app maker who processes facial templates that flow through Microsoft’s Azure cloud service. Microsoft’s possession is passive, so it seems that it cannot be held responsible in that situation.

This is just a ruling on dismissal motions, not a final decision.

Dismissal requested in Amazon/Starbucks palm case

Meanwhile, in New York City, Amazon and co-located Starbucks, defendants in a biometric privacy suit, say their case should be dismissed because the plaintiffs knew they were giving their identifiers to them.

The case involves touch-free shopping in a handful of groceries with coffee counters. Consumers in the shops can check out by waving their palm over a reader. Cameras in the outlets, analyzing body biometrics, record who has picked up what items, according to trade publication MediaPost.

The plaintiffs allege that there is insufficient signage telling people that Amazon will gather and share identifiers. The verbiage allegedly implies that no scanning occurs until people display their palm to leave, which would contradict reports that cameras are used to identify people possessing goods.

New York City laws require sufficient disclosure to shoppers what biometric systems will do.

(This case begain in a New York federal court but was moved to a federal court in Washington State.)

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