Everalbum, a consumer photo app maker that shut down on August 31, 2020, and has since relaunched as a facial recognition provider under the name Paravision, on Monday reached a settlement with the FTC over the 2017 introduction of a feature called “Friends” in its discontinued Ever app. The watchdog agency claims the app deployed facial recognition code to organize users’ photos by default, without permission.
According to the FTC, between July 2018 and April 2019, Everalbum told people that it would not employ facial recognition on users’ content without consent. The company allegedly let users in certain regions – Illinois, Texas, Washington, and the EU – make that choice, but automatically activated the feature for those located elsewhere.
The agency further claims that Everalbum’s use of facial recognition went beyond supporting the Friends feature. The company is alleged to have combined users’ faces with facial images from other information to create four datasets that informed its facial recognition technology, which became the basis of a face detection service for enterprise customers.
The company also is said to have told consumers using its app that it would delete their data if they deactivated their accounts, but didn’t do so until at least October 2019.
The FTC, in announcing the case and its settlement, said Everalbum/Paravision will be required to delete: photos and videos belonging to Ever app users who deactivated their accounts; all face embeddings – vector representations of facial features – from users who did not grant consent; and “any facial recognition models or algorithms developed with Ever users’ photos or videos.”
The FTC has not done this in past privacy cases with technology companies. According to FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra, when Google and YouTube agreed to pay $170m over allegations the companies had collected data from children without parental consent, the FTC settlement “allowed Google and YouTube to profit from its conduct, even after paying a civil penalty.”
Likewise, when the FTC voted to approve a settlement with Facebook over claims it had violated its 2012 privacy settlement agreement, he said, Facebook did not have to give up any of its facial recognition technology or data.
“Commissioners have previously voted to allow data protection law violators to retain algorithms and technologies that derive much of their value from ill-gotten data,” said Chopra in a statement [PDF]. “This is an important course correction.”