Fear of theoretical harms can generate bad law and policy. And when this policy empowers class-action lawyers to abuse bad policy, things can get truly iAWFUL.
New York’s AB 9793 made the iAWFUL list because it intends to enable massive lawsuits against online platforms. Services like Shutterfly and Amazon Photos allow you to search your own personal photo albums for multiple photos that include the same person. Users value this feature to easily find that perfect photo of a friend or relative, based on advances in facial recognition technology.
All Americans can enjoy this feature – unless you’re a resident of Illinois.
Nearly ten years ago, Illinois enacted a law that inadvertently made it illegal to search your own photos by recognizing faces of your own family and friends. That allowed Illinois class-action lawyers to abuse this law with a private right of action and statutory damages against online photo services.
As a result of the Illinois law, residents of the state cannot use home-security cameras with facial recognition, even if just to know when their children arrive home safely from school. And Illinoisans can’t use facial recognition to tag and find friends and family members in personal photos stored on Amazon Photos (see screen below).
After seeing this law being misused by trial lawyers, the author of the Illinois law tried to amend it. But class-action lawyers didn’t want to lose their new golden goose and blocked the fix.
Now, New York is considering the same calamitous path as Illinois, with AB 9793.
Consumer benefit from these regulations is limited, but there is a real cost to consumers in terms of lost access to new technology. Overregulating innovative technologies when there is no consumer harm undermines how much we can all benefit from technological progress. Doing so also sends a signal that fictional scare stories are more important than facts . With New York’s AB 9793 falling prey to this tendency, it earned its place as #5 on iAWFUL.