Social media giant Snapchat just can’t seem to keep itself out of the courtroom in recent months. Back in April, Snapchat was sued over a distracted driving accident. Earlier in July, the company was sued over allegedly offensive content surfacing on the app. Now, Snapchat is being sued for stealing people’s faces. That’s right, stealing faces.
So how can social media app can steal someone’s face? Well, it hasn’t joined the cult of the Many-Faced God if that is what you are thinking.In reality, it is a little more complicated. According to a report from NBC Chicago, two Illinois men have filed a class-action suit in California alleging that Snapchat captures users’ facial data without their consent in violation of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act. Specifically, the suit targets Snapchat’s Lenses technology, an object recognition feature contained the app that allows users to swap faces or add quirky elements to their snapshot.
The biometric law at issue was introduced back in 2008 in response to certain gas stations and grocery stores testing the use of fingerprinting to make financial transactions. The American Civil Liberties Union took issue with the practice and spearheaded the passage of the law in an effort to prevent biometric identifiers getting into the hands of the wrong people.
For the same reason, the ACLU has been eyeballing Snapchat. According to ACLU legislative director Mary Dixon:
What we were concerned about is how [facial recognition technology] could be acquired and used, even in ways we didn’t know about . . . While you can, with great difficulty, change your Social Security number, you cannot change your unique biological identifier.
We here at Abnormal Use can certainly appreciate the right to privacy. Nonetheless, we think the fear of the plaintiffs and the ACLU are unfounded. The Lenses technology apparently does not capture and create a database of faces. Rather, it simply figures out whether an object is a face and, if so, where each facial feature is located. For Snapchat users, this is the technology that lets the app know where to put the dog nose, the heart eyes, and the rainbow tongue. In other words, it is the all the good in Snapchat.