Texas sues Meta over Facebook’s facial recognition practices

Texas’s attorney general has accused Facebook’s parent company of unlawfully collecting biometric data for commercial reasons.

A sign of Meta, the new name for the company formerly known as Facebook, is seen at its headquarters in Menlo Park, California, United States
Meta Platforms Inc, which is based in Melo Park, California in the United States, called the Texas lawsuit 'without merit' [File: Carlos Barria/Reuters]

The Texas attorney general is suing Facebook parent Meta, saying the United States company has unlawfully collected biometric data on Texans for commercial purposes, without their informed consent.

Attorney General Ken Paxton filed the lawsuit Monday in state district court, claiming Meta has been “storing millions of biometric identifiers” — identified as retina or iris scans, voiceprints, or a record of hand and face geometry — contained in photos and videos people upload to its services, including Facebook and Instagram.

“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.”

The filing of the lawsuit coincided with the first day of early voting in a primary election in Texas, where Paxton faces several GOP challengers in the wake of his top deputies reporting him to the FBI for alleged corruption.

Paxton has been going up against “Big Tech” — a common foe for both Republicans and Democrats even if their criticisms don’t always align. He earlier launched an investigation of Twitter over its ban of former President Donald Trump and filed several lawsuits against Google.

Under Texas law, the lawsuit says, companies must obtain “informed consent” from people to use their biometric data. This means people have to be informed before this data is captured and it can only be done if they agree to it. Such data also cannot be disclosed for anyone else, although there are some exceptions, such as law enforcement subpoenas.

In a statement, Meta Platforms Inc, which is based in Melo Park, California, called the lawsuit “without merit”.

The company said in November that it was shutting down its facial recognition programme and deleting its data.

Texas is asking the court to fine Meta $25,000 for each violation of the informed consent rule and $10,000 for each violation of the state’s deceptive trade practices act.

Meta, then called Facebook, paid $650m to settle a similar lawsuit over the use of photo face-tagging and other biometric data in Illinois last year.

Source: AP