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Texas sues Meta over collection of biometric data

The lawsuit filed in state court alleges Facebook's parent company collected the data of millions of Texans to improve its facial recognition system.

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — The state of Texas claims in a lawsuit filed against Meta Platforms Monday that it improperly collected users' biometric data and used it to train its facial-recognition technology.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican who filed the 29-page complaint on behalf of the state, argues that the Facebook parent company violated state laws prohibiting the collection of such data without informed consent and failed to destory the information in a timely manner.

"Facebook has, for over a decade, built an Artifiical Intelligence empire on the back of Texans by deceiving them while capturing their most intimate data, therby putting their well-being, safety, and security at risk," the complaint states.

Under the Texas Capture or Use of Biometric Identifier Act, it is unlawful to use a person’s biometric data for commercial purposes without their consent. The law also requires anyone who collected the data to destroy it “within a reasonable time,” but no later than one year after the data was collected. Anyone found guilty of unlawfully collecting biometric data faces a $25,000 fine for each violation — a violation the complaint alleges Facebook committed billions of times.  

The complaint also alleges Meta Platforms violated the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices-Consumer Protection Act by not being clear with users about what the facial identification data was being used for. Companies found to have violated this law can be fined up to $10,000 for each penalty. 

The violations allegedly began in 2010 with Facebook’s tag suggestion feature, which used facial recognition technology to suggest to users what person should be linked to the photo or videos posted to the site.

Meta announced in November 2021 that it was ending its facial recognition system on Facebook and would be deleting over a billion individuals' facial recognition templates. The company said the decision to end the system came as a result of people opting out of being recognized in images. It also came several months after it settled a similar class action lawsuit in Illinois for $650 million.

“In the case of facial recognition, its long-term role in society needs to be debated in the open, and among those who will be most impacted by it," Meta’s Vice President of Artificial Intelligence Jerome Pesenti said in a statement announcing the end of the facial recognition system.

Texas is asking the court to permanently enjoin the company from collecting biometric data without users' informed consent and destroy any data collected through the alleged unlawful means. Furthermore, the state hopes to have Meta pay for every alleged violation of state law, which could range in hundreds of billions in penalties. 

“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.”

Last year, Texas found itself at odds with two internet trade organizations for a law that declared social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as common carriers that must be open all for use as a public forum. House Bill 20 requires sites with over 50 million active users to provide information as to how they target users, promote content, moderate users and use algorithms. 

The law was a priority for many Republicans in the state legislature and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who complained that large social media platforms were censoring conservative voices online. Advocates for free enterprise online filed a federal lawsuit against the state arguing that HB 20 violates social media sites' First Amendment rights. 

A federal judge blocked the law days before it was set to go into effect. Judge Robert Pitman, a Barack Obama appointee, found the law was overly burdensome on the companies.

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