Texas sues Meta over Facebook facial recognition

Tech

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has sued Meta for using facial recognition. The lawsuit, filed today in district court, alleges that Meta’s Facebook photo tag system violated the Texas Capture or Use of Biometric Identifier (CUBI) Act. It demands monetary damages and an end to any unauthorized use of Texans’ biometric data.

The CUBI restrictions, passed in 2009, require that informed consent be obtained before collecting biometric data such as facial geometry. The lawsuit alleges that Facebook scanned user photos without asking permission and downplayed the fact that the automated tagging system amounted to massive biometric data collection. It also ties in with a previous lawsuit’s claim that Instagram scans images for facial recognition, which allegedly contradicts statements in the user agreement. In a statement sent to The edge by Dina El-Kassaby, Meta replied that “these claims are unfounded and that we will defend ourselves vigorously.”

All in all, the attorney general’s office alleges that Meta “captured the biometric identifiers of millions of Texans without their informed consent, for commercial purposes, and did not destroy them within a reasonable time.” The lawsuit seeks $25,000 in civil fines for each CUBI violation and an additional $10,000 per violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act — which The Wall Street Journal banknotes would theoretically total hundreds of billions of dollars.

Texas is one of the few states – besides Illinois and Washington – with a biometric privacy law. The better-known Illinois law has given Meta a headache in the past: In early 2021, a judge approved a $650 million class action settlement in that state through Facebook’s tagging system. Texas law, unlike its Illinois counterpart, must be enforced by the attorney general’s office.

Meta retired from Facebook’s automated tagging system in November, several months after the Illinois settlement. But it hasn’t ruled out the possibility of using facial recognition on other services — including the burgeoning virtual and augmented reality “metaverse” platforms that the company has devoted much of its recent attention to.

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