Texas is Suing Meta for Collecting Facial Recognition Data

Meta Sign outside company headquarters in Menlo Park, California, USA

The Texas attorney general has slapped Facebook’s parent company, Meta, with a lawsuit for collecting the biometric data of Texans without their consent. The AG accused Meta of violating a state consumer protection law, adding to its recent woes with facial recognition technology.

Texas Seeking Damages in “Billions of Dollars”

Meta’s facial recognition technology — which is over a decade old — automatically identifies people’s faces in photos and videos. Texas attorney general Ken Paxton said the company collected this sensitive information without the consent of its users, thereby violating Texas’ consumer protection law.

Furthermore, he accused Meta of sharing this data with unauthorized third parties and failing to destroy it within a reasonable time frame. At a news conference on Monday, February 14, Paxton said the lawsuit claims damages of “billions of dollars.” The attorney general estimates there were 20 million Texans using Facebook, and each penalty could cost $25,000.

“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,” Mr. Paxton stated. “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,” he added.

In response to the lawsuit, a Meta spokeswoman stated, “These claims are without merit, and we will defend ourselves vigorously.”

Facebook’s Past Trouble with Facial ID

The “billions” that the Texas Attorney General is seeking is substantially higher than the last legal payout Facebook faced. In February 2021, Facebook settled a $650 million class-action lawsuit in Illinois for using its face-tagging technology without user consent.

A federal judge awarded the settlement to nearly 1.6 million members of the class in Illinois that filed the complaints, determining that the platform’s use of facial ID tagging violated the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act. The lawsuit claimed that Facebook’s Tag Suggestions tool stored biometric data without user consent. The tool scans faces that appear in users’ photos and suggest who they might be.

About nine months after the settlement, the company decided to scrap its facial recognition systems altogether. The company has also promised to delete over a billion unique facial recognition templates.

Meta’s PR Struggles Continue

Meta has been stuck in a whirlwind of negative publicity for a myriad of reasons. The company’s struggles began with its role in the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, where its third-party data-sharing practices came to light.

The company also finds itself on the wrong side of US lawmakers. The latter have made Meta their primary target in the fight against big tech monopolies. Many consider this to be a move against social media censorship. As a consequence, Meta is stuck in an uncomfortable position with its next steps.

Even its name change from ‘Facebook’ to ‘Meta’, and the decision to focus on building the metaverse, has not yielded positive results. In fact, the company’s stock price dropped by 26% this month.

With all the news surrounding Meta, it is natural to have some concerns or questions about using their popular products. You can check out our articles on Meta’s services like Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, to learn about their privacy practices.

Technology policy researcher
Prateek is a technology policy researcher with a background in law. His areas of interest include data protection, privacy, digital currencies, and digital literacy. Outside of his research interests, Prateek is an avid reader and is engaged in projects on sustainable farming practices in India.