Texas alleges Facebook's facial recognition practices violated privacy protections

Texas is suing Facebook over allegations that the social media giant violated Texans’ privacy through the company’s previous use of facial recognition technology, according to a complaint filed Monday.

“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,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) 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 lawsuit alleges Facebook, now under the parent company Meta, captured biometric data of Texans for commercial purposes without their informed consent and failed to destroy collected identifiers within a reasonable time. 

The lawsuit also alleges that Facebook violated the privacy of people who were not even users on the platform by collecting biometric identifiers from photos and videos “innocently uploaded by friends and family who did use Facebook.” 

“There was no way for such non-users to know of or contest this exploitation,” the complaint states. 

The lawsuit was first reported by The Wall Street Journal. A person familiar with the matter told the Journal the lawsuit seeks civil penalties in the hundreds of billions of dollars. 

A Meta spokesperson denied the allegations in the lawsuit.

"These claims are without merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously," the spokesperson said in a statement.

Facebook settled a separate class-action lawsuit, based around Illinois privacy law, over its use of facial recognition for about $650 million in 2020. 

Since then, the company said it would cease using facial recognition, at least for the time being. 

In November, Facebook said it would shut down its facial recognition system and delete more than a billion individual facial recognition templates. The system gave users the option to automatically be notified when they appeared in photos or videos posted by others, as well as suggested users to “tag” in photos and videos they post. 

Paxton’s complaint acknowledges Facebook’s announcement to end facial recognition, but says it is not enough. 

“By that point, however, it had spent more than a decade secretly exploiting Texans and their personal information to perfect its AI apparatus. There can be no free pass for Facebook unlawfully invading the privacy rights of tens of millions of Texas residents by misappropriating their data and putting one of their most personal and valuable possession — records of their facial geometry — at risk from hackers and bad actors, all to build an AI-powered virtual reality empire,” the complaint states.

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