Lawsuit filed against Snapchat for using biometric data without consent

July 20, 2016 - 

Two men filed a class-action lawsuit against Snapchat under a 2008 Illinois state law that requires a company to obtain written consent before using an individual’s biometric data, according to a report by Inc.

Initially filed by plaintiffs Jose Luis Martinez and Malcolm Neal in Los Angeles County court in May, the case has recently been moved to U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

According to the lawsuit, Snapchat has been unlawfully gathering, storing, and using biometric data, including face geometry and iris scans of its users without asking for permission, which directly violates the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act.

“Contrary to the claims of this frivolous lawsuit, we are very careful not to collect, store, or obtain any biometric information or identifiers about our community,” a Snapchat spokesperson wrote in an email.

The lawsuit states that the social media giant collects biometric data when users take selfies with the Lenses feature, which allows users to add various animated features to their photos.

Snapchat explains on its website how its Lenses feature uses object recognition, which “is an algorithm designed to understand the general nature of things that appear in an image”.

However, the company emphasizes that “object recognition isn’t the same as facial recognition… [because] Lenses can recognize faces in general [but] can’t recognize a specific face.”

The Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act was passed in 2008 in order to regulate the manner in which companies collect and use biometric information.

The plaintiffs are seeking a total of over $5 million in damages, which breaks down to $5,000 for each intentional violation of BIPA, or $1,000 if the court finds that Snapchat was negligent, according to The Chicago Tribune.

Facebook was slapped with a class-action privacy lawsuit regarding its facial recognition technology under the same Illinois law. A federal judge recently rejected Facebook’s request to dismiss the lawsuit.

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About Justin Lee

Justin Lee has been a contributor with Biometric Update since 2014. Previously, he was a staff writer for web hosting magazine and website, theWHIR. For more than a decade, Justin has written for various publications on issues relating to technology, arts and culture, and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @BiometricJustin.