Legal Roundup: TikTok and Facebook Settle Illinois Privacy Law Complaints, Harvard Race Suit Presses On and More

The latest court filings and cases that will have an impact on the risk management and insurance industry.
By: | March 4, 2021

TikTok Parent Agrees to $92 Million Privacy Settlement

The Case: A group of TikTok users sued the growing social media company over privacy concerns. In a suit against Chinese parent company ByteDance, the users say the company ran afoul of a strict Illinois law barring tech firms from gaining certain data without consent.

The Associated Press reports: “The federal lawsuit alleged that TikTok broke the Illinois biometric privacy law, which allows suits against companies that harvest consumer data without consent, including via facial and fingerprint scanning. Illinois is the only state with a law that allows people to seek monetary damages for such unauthorized data collection.”

Scorecard: ByteDance has agreed to pay $92 million to settle the case.

Takeaway: The settlement is a victory for those in favor of stricter internet privacy laws (even though ByteDance admitted no wrongdoing).

Facebook recently agreed to a much larger settlement regarding the same Illinois privacy law (see below.)

“Privacy advocates have praised the law as the nation’s strongest form of protection in the commercial use of such data, and it has survived ongoing efforts by the tech industry and other businesses to weaken it,” the Associated Press said.

Facebook’s $650 Million Settlement Approved

The Case: A class of 1.6 million Facebook users sued the social media giant, claiming its photo tagging feature violated Illinois tech privacy law.

The Verge has more: “The lawsuit claimed that Facebook’s Tag Suggestions tool, which scanned faces in users’ photos and offered suggestions about who the person might be, stored biometric data without users’ consent in violation of the Illinois law. The case became a class action lawsuit in 2018. In 2019, Facebook made facial recognition on the platform opt-in only.”

Scorecard: The two sides agreed to a $650 million settlement in the summer. In late February, a judge approved the settlement amount. The three lead plaintiffs will receive $5,000 and others in the class will get at least $345.

Takeaway: This too appears to be a big win for privacy advocates. Even the judge in the case — Judge James Donato of the Northern District of California — called the settlement a “landmark result” and a “major win for consumers in the hotly contested area of digital privacy,” according to The Verge.

Could more states follow Illinois in passing far stricter privacy laws to reign in Big Tech? That remains to be seen.

Group Suing Harvard Over Race in Admissions Appeals to Supreme Court

The Case: Students for Fair Admissions sued Harvard University for using race as a factor in undergraduate admissions.

The group claimed it adversely affects Asian Americans. The university claims that the practice helps to create a diverse campus and a healthy learning environment.

After lower courts ruled in favor of Harvard, Students for Fair Admissions has now petitioned the Supreme Court to hear its case.

The Washington Post reports: “The group’s new petition asks the Supreme Court to overturn a 2003 ruling that allows race-conscious admissions in higher education in the interest of achieving student body diversity. That 2003 ruling in the case known as Grutter v. Bollinger, the group contends, was ‘grievously wrong.’ ”

Scorecard: Will the Supreme Court hear the case? We’ll know soon enough.

Takeaway: The Washington Post says: “Colleges and universities around the country are watching a case with major ramifications for the world of competitive admissions.”

The publication also says that the case could be successful if heard by the court. That’s because of three new conservative-leaning justices “whose past rulings and writings would seem to make them sympathetic to an argument that Grutter’s time has passed.” &

Jared Shelly is a journalist based in Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]

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