Texas sues Meta over the facial recognition system it shut down last year

The state alleges the company collected biometric data without obtaining informed consent.

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An aerial view shows a person passing a newly unveiled logo for "Meta", the new name for Facebook's parent company, outside Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park on October 28, 2021. - Facebook changed its parent company name to "Meta" on October 28 as the tech giant tries to move past being a scandal-plagued social network to its virtual reality vision for the future. (Photo by NOAH BERGER / AFP) (Photo by NOAH BERGER/AFP via Getty Images)
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Meta’s past use of facial recognition technology has once again landed the company in potential legal trouble. On Monday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit against the company, alleging it had collected the biometric data of millions of Texans without obtaining their informed consent to do so. At the center of the case is Facebook’s now discontinued use of facial recognition technology. The platform previously employed the technology as part of its “tag suggestions” feature, which used image recognition to scan photos and automatically tag users in them.

Last November, Meta shut down that system, citing, among other reasons, “uncertainty” about how the technology would be regulated in the future. The year before, the company paid $650 million to settle a lawsuit that alleged it had violated an Illinois privacy law that requires companies to obtain “explicit” consent before collecting biometric data from users.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Texas sent a civil subpoena to Meta after the outcome of the Illinois lawsuit was announced. The state is reportedly seeking hundreds of billions of dollars in civil penalties. The Capture or Use of Biometric Identifier Act stipulates Texas can levy a penalty of up to $25,000 per violation of the law. According to the attorney general’s complaint, at least 20 million Texans used Facebook in 2021.

“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,” Attorney General Paxton 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.”

“These claims are without merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously,” a spokesperson for Meta told Engadget.

Meta isn’t the only big tech company that’s in a court battle with Texas. In 2020, Paxton’s office filed a multi-state lawsuit against Google centered on the company’s ad business. Last month, Google asked a judge to dismiss that suit. “AG Paxton’s allegations are more heat than light, and we don’t believe they meet the legal standard to send this case to trial,” Adam Cohen, Google’s director of economic policy, said at the time. “The complaint misrepresents our business, products and motives, and we are moving to dismiss it based on its failure to offer plausible antitrust claims.”

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