Texas sues Facebook parent Meta over facial recognition data

The Texas Attorney General is suing Facebook’s parent company, saying it collected biometric data on Texans for commercial purposes without their informed consent.

Attorney General Ken Paxton filed the lawsuit Monday in a state district court. The suit claims Facebook parent Meta has been “storing millions of biometric identifiers” — identified as retina or iris scans, voice prints, or a record of hand and face geometry — contained in photos and videos people uploaded to its services, including Facebook and Instagram.

“Facebook will no longer take advantage of people and their children with the intent to turn a profit at the expense of one’s safety and well-being,” Paxton said in a statement. “This is yet another example of Big Tech’s deceitful business practices and it must stop. I will continue to fight for Texans’ privacy and security.”

The filing of the lawsuit coincided with the first day of early voting in a primary election in Texas, where Paxton faces several GOP challengers in the wake of his top deputies reporting him to the FBI for alleged corruption.

Paxton has been going up against “Big Tech” — a common foe for both Republicans and Democrats even if their criticisms don’t always align. He earlier launched an investigation of Twitter over its ban of former President Donald Trump and filed several lawsuits against Google.

Under Texas law, the lawsuit says, companies must obtain “informed consent” from people to use their biometric data. This means people have to be informed before their biometric data is captured and it can only be done if they agree to it. Such data also cannot be disclosed for anyone else, although there are some exceptions, such as in cases where a law enforcement subpoena issued.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Meta Platforms Inc., which is based in Menlo Park, California, said the lawsuit was “without merit” and that the Texas law in question had never been enforced in the past.

The company said in November that it was shutting down its facial recognition program and deleting most of its data.
Previously, the feature made templates of user’s faces and compared them to other photos and videos posted on the platform, which allowed Facebook to notify users when they appeared in someone else’s photo or video and prompted users to “tag” friends and family that the AI identified.

Facebook still uses the system in a limited capacity, such as allowing users to gain access to locked accounts and verifying their identity for financial products.

Texas is asking the court to fine Meta $25,000 for each violation of the informed consent rule and $10,000 for each violation of the state’s deceptive trade practices act.

Meta, then called Facebook, paid $650 million to settle a similar lawsuit over the use of photo face-tagging and other biometric data in Illinois last year.

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