Most people think Snapchat is just a fun messaging app. They use it to send photos and videos that self-destruct seconds after being viewed. Snapchat also features an app that makes it possible to creatively alter photographs. Known as “Lenses,” this app is what makes it possible for the photo’s subject to sport floppy dog ears, hearts instead of eyes or a floral headband. Now, this capability is at the center of a potential class action lawsuit.
Illinois residents Jose Martinez and Malcolm Neal filed a complaint in Los Angeles in May of 2016, arguing that Snapchat violated their state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act. The law is aimed at preventing biometric identifiers from falling into questionable hands and sprang from concerns about how the necessary technology used to collect biometric identifiers might be used without the user’s knowledge or permission.
The lawsuit contends that Snapchat is collecting and maintaining detailed biometric information on their customers. This is being done without the knowledge and consent of the users, which is contrary to Illinois’ law.
Snapchat categorically denies the allegations, arguing that their service is not capable of collecting complex biometric information that would allow them to identify the face of one user as opposed to another. Instead, they say that the technology involved is merely for object recognition, which makes it possible for the program to determine which objects in a photo are faces and where the eyes, nose and mouth are located. Moreover, Snapchat denies that they are in any way storing the data that is used in the Lenses app.
Snapchat is not the first social media platform to be sued over similar technology. Both Facebook and Google are facing legal battles relating to face-recognition software that automatically identifies particular people in photographs.
This lawsuit is only in its beginning stages. It was moved to the federal courts in July 2016, and Snapchat may be facing stiff fines if their software is determined to be guilty of violating Illinois’ law. This incident demonstrates the powerful need for businesses to understand the laws of states where they will be operating.