We have been closely following the legal and legislative developments relating to biometric privacy, and in particular, the flow of litigation under the Illinois biometrics privacy law. It was interesting to see how the Illinois law (as well as a similar Texas law) influenced Google’s offering of a new facial recognition feature on the Google Arts & Culture app. (It is also interesting to note that the media coverage of the app has made the Illinois and Texas laws subjects of mainstream discourse.)
The Google Arts & Culture app, which was originally released a couple years ago, offers users virtual tours of museums and a searchable database of other art-related content. What recently made it one of the hottest free apps is a new entertaining tool that compares a selfie to a database of great works of art and presents the results that most closely match the user’s face. [Note: My classical art doppelgänger is “Portrait of a Gentleman in Red” by Rosalba Carriera. What’s yours?]. However, out of an apparent abundance of caution, Google has disabled this art-twinning function in Illinois and Texas, presumably because those states have biometric privacy laws that regulate the collection and use of biometric identifiers like facial templates; while the Texas statute can only be enforced by the state attorney general, Illinois’s Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) contains a private right of action and remedies that include statutory damages. Interestingly, Washington users are able to access this tool, despite Washington having enacted its own biometric privacy law last year. Perhaps that is because, as described in the referenced blog post, compliance under the Washington statute is less demanding than under the Illinois or Texas statutes.