YouTube Hit With Biometric Privacy Class Action Over ‘Face Blur’ Tool

A YouTuber sued YouTube and parent company Google (together, YouTube) on Tuesday, alleging that it surreptitiously collects, uses, and stores millions of Illinois residents’ faces through use of its “Face Blur” tool. According to the complaint, 2012-launched Face Blur allows video uploaders to select faces in a video and blur them, making those faces unrecognizable to viewers.

The filing claims that “[u]nbeknownst to the average consumer, Defendants’ “Face Blur” tool relies on state-of-the-art facial recognition technology to scan videos, locate human faces, and create and store scans of face geometry.” The complaint, using screenshots of the YouTube website, explains that YouTube permanently stores scans of facial geometry or biometric information so that YouTube users do not need to re-use the tool.

In addition, the lawsuit points to YouTube’s Thumbnail Generator, which creates thumbnail photographs of various points within a particular video to create a preview, mostly to generate views and in turn, revenue for YouTube. The plaintiffs claim it is evidence that YouTube has “a software program that has been trained to detect faces… [and] it is likely that the software is continually being optimized by gathering more facial geometry data from YouTube videos.”

Consequently, the suit asserts that the Face Blur tool violates their privacy rights because YouTube fails to disclose its collection and storage of biometric information, and even if it did, “it would still be a legally insufficient disclosure to the individual whose image was captured and stored within the video.”

The suit states two claims for relief under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) and seeks statutory damages on behalf of the Illinois resident class. The plaintiff and putative class are represented by Milberg Coleman Bryson Phillips Grossman PLLC and Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP.