Texas sues Meta over Facebook’s facial recognition practices

15 Feb 2022

Image: © Askar/Stock.adobe.com

The lawsuit made by the Texas attorney general is reportedly seeking hundreds of billions of dollars in civil penalties.

Texas attorney general Ken Paxton is suing Meta, claiming that Facebook was in violation of the state’s privacy laws for allegedly capturing and profiting from the use of biometric data of millions of Texans without their informed consent.

The lawsuit claims that, for more than a decade, Facebook was “secretly capturing, disclosing, unlawfully retaining and profiting off of” personal and sensitive information of Texans using facial recognition technology.

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“Facebook’s omnipresent empire was built on deception, lies and brazen abuses of Texans’ privacy rights – all for Facebook’s commercial gain,” the lawsuit reads.

It goes on to allege that Facebook concealed the “nature of its practices” by not using the term ‘biometric data’, which “tends to scare people off”. Texans were left “oblivious” to the fact that Facebook was selling their biometric data to third parties who “further exploited it”, the lawsuit claims.

Storing biometric data without proper consent is illegal in the state of Texas as in many other jurisdictions. Biometric identifiers can include retina or iris scans, fingerprints, voiceprints and records of hand or face geometry.

The lawsuit seeks civil penalties in the hundreds of billions of dollars, a person familiar with the matter told the Wall Street Journal.

In November, Meta announced that it will delete face recognition data from more than 1bn Facebook users collected over a decade. People who opted in for Facebook’s face recognition feature will no longer be automatically recognised in photos and videos on the platform.

Meta responded to the lawsuit by saying the claims against Facebook “are without merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously”.

Paxton, who has served as the attorney general of the state since 2015, claimed that the company exploited user information to “reap historic windfall profits”.  He said that Facebook’s practices were in violation of two Texas laws: the Capture or Use of Biometric Identifier Act and the Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

“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 wellbeing,” he said. “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.”

Even though Meta continues to make profits, its performance was lower than expected on many metrics in its most recent earnings report, with Facebook’s daily active users falling for the first time in the platform’s 18-year history.

Earlier this month, Meta was hit with a criminal lawsuit for the first time after Australian mining magnate Andrew Forrest accused Facebook of failing to prevent scam ads using his name and image.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com