An apparent effort by Juul Labs to crack down on underage online purchases of its e-cigarette product is at the center of a proposed class action lawsuit over alleged violations of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA).
The complaint out of Cook County Court states that in response to criticism over its targeting of young people, Juul in November 2018 added “extra layers of security” to its online purchasing system in order to verify buyers’ ages. With the extra measures in place, those who attempt to buy an e-cigarette on Juul.com must submit their name, birthdate, permanent address, and the last four digits of their Social Security number to have their age verified. Should a customer opt out of providing all that information, however, they can choose to verify their age by uploading a photograph that’s then scanned by Juul to match the face to an uploaded government-issued ID card.
Once a customer’s facial geometry is scanned by Juul, the individual is then enrolled in the company’s database, the suit continues. The lawsuit argues Juul’s collection, storage and use of facial recognition data as a means of age verification “exposes its customers to serious and irreversible privacy risks,” the same risks the BIPA was enacted to reduce. According to the case, Juul has scanned online customers’ faces without:
Properly informing consumers in writing of the specific purpose and length of time for which their facial information will be collected, stored and used;
Publishing a public retention schedule and guidelines outlining how and when consumers’ facial information will be permanently destroyed;
Receiving a written release allowing for the collection, storage, dissemination and use of a consumer’s facial geometric data; and
Obtaining consent from a consumer to disclose, redisclose or otherwise disseminate their facial geometry to a third party.
“Juul customers have a proprietary right to control their biometric information,” the lawsuit states. “In failing to comply with the requirements of [the] BIPA, Juul intentionally interferes with each user’s right of possession and control over their valuable, unique, and permanent biometric data.”
The lawsuit looks to cover a class of Juul Labs customers in Illinois who had their facial geometry “collected, captured, received, otherwise obtained, maintained, stored, or disclosed” by the company within the applicable statutory period.