SNAPCHAT

Class-Action Snapchat Settlement Approved in Illinois. Here's What's Next

A similar class-action suit recently paid out Illinois Facebook users close to $400 each

NBCUniversal Media, LLC

A class-action settlement involving Snapchat in Illinois was approved just before the Thanksgiving holiday, paving the way for checks to be distributed, the law firm behind the lawsuit confirmed to NBC 5.

The hearing was the final step before payments can begin for those who submitted claims, but should there be an appeal, that could delay the process further. Details surrounding how much the actual payments will be also remained unclear as the firm behind the settlement said claims were still being processed.

According to the settlement website, the social network is accused of violating Illinois' Biometric Information Privacy Act by illegally collecting users' biometric information like unique facial features -- through the use of features like "Lenses" and "Filters" -- without their consent. It was filed in May in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

At the center of the allegations is Snapchat's Lenses features, which allows users to take a "Snap," and then select a particular lens and modify their facial features with special effects, according to court documents. The lawsuit claims Lenses involves the use of technology to create a face scan and "creating, obtaining and storing" a user's unique biometric identifiers.

The feature obtained the plaintiffs' biometric information without obtaining informed written consent each time it scanned their faces, the suit alleges.

The deadline to file a claim and receive a potential payout in the settlement was earlier this month.

Illinois’ Biometric Privacy Act prohibits private sector companies and institutions from collecting biometric data from unsuspecting citizens in the state or online, no matter where the business is based. Data cannot be sold, transferred or traded. Unlike any other state, citizens can sue for alleged violations, which has sparked hundreds of David-and-Goliath legal battles against some of the world’s most powerful companies.

If a company is found to have violated Illinois law, citizens can collect civil penalties up to $5,000 per violation compounded by the number of people affected and days involved. No state regulatory agency is involved in enforcement.

This past spring, more than one million Illinois Facebook users began receiving checks following a $650 million settlement in a class-action suit alleging it violated residents' rights by collecting and storing digital scans of their faces without permission. 

Microsoft, Amazon and Google are among the companies that have also been accused of violations.

Here's a breakdown of what to know.

How Much is the Settlement For?

As of August, a $35 million settlement had been reached in the case.

Snapchat Inc.'s settlement was reached after a court did not find in favor of either the company nor the plaintiffs, meaning the social media platform did not admit fault.

"Snap continues to vehemently deny that Lenses violate BIPA, which was designed to require notice and consent before collecting biometric information used to identify people," a Snap spokesperson told NBC 5 in a statement in August.

"We deeply value the privacy of our community, and Snapchat Lenses do not collect biometric data that can be used to identify a specific person, or engage in facial identification. For example, Lenses can be used to identify an eye or a nose as being part of a face, but cannot identify an eye or a nose as belonging to any specific person. Moreover, even the limited data that is used to power Lenses is never sent to Snap's servers – the data never leaves the user's mobile device. And while we are confident that Lenses do not violate BIPA, out of an abundance of caution and as a testament to our commitment to user privacy, earlier this year we rolled out an in-app consent notice for Snapchatters in Illinois."

Are You Eligible to File a Claim?

According to the settlement website, any Illinois resident who used Snapchat Lenses or Filters after Nov. 17, 2015, was eligible to submit a claim.

Since BIPA is an Illinois law, it only applies to state residents.

But the deadline for eligible residents to submit their claims was Nov. 5, according to a website dedicated to the settlement.

How Much Money Would You Get and When?

Final details surrounding how much each person will receive from the settlement remain unclear. The firm behind the settlement said claims were still being processed.

Payments could not be made until the settlement received the final approval, but should there be any appeals, that could delay the timing of their release.

"If there are appeals, resolving them can take time. Please be patient," the settlement website reads.

An attorney behind the settlement, however, told NBC Chicago they do not believe any appeals are currently planned.

A final timeline for checks to be distributed has not yet been released.

NBC Chicago/NBC News
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