Residents Begin Receiving Checks in Illinois' Snapchat Lawsuit Settlement

According to the settlement website, the social network is accused of violating Illinois' Biometric Information Privacy Act

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Illinois residents have started receiving checks in connection with a class-action lawsuit settlement involving Snapchat.

Users of the social media app who filed a claim in connection with the lawsuit reported receiving funds from the $35 million settlement beginning Monday. The total? $16.35.

Checks were expected to be distributed sometime before early February, according to the law firm representing plaintiffs in the case.

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.

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.

Last 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.

As of August, a $35 million settlement had been reached in the case. That settlement was eventually approved in November.

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."

Since BIPA is an Illinois law, only state residents were eligible for a payout.

But the deadline for eligible residents to submit their claims was Nov. 5.

While many reported receiving their funds via direct deposit, those who receive checks will then have 120 days to cash them.

NBC Chicago/NBC News
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