The Texas Attorney General has filed a lawsuit against Meta, alleging that facial recognition technology, which the company hasn’t used on its social network Facebook for some time, violated the privacy of the state’s residents. The lawsuit seeks hundreds of billions of dollars in administrative penalties, according to people familiar with the matter.
In a statement, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said facial recognition in photos uploaded to Facebook from 2010 through late last year led to tens of millions of violations of state laws. “Facebook secretly collects Texans’ most personal information — their photos and videos — for their own corporate benefit.”said Paxton. Texas law has banned such data collection for more than 20 years, he said.
Meta has not yet commented on the situation. However, the company previously settled another similar lawsuit in Illinois, paying $650 million in damages. Facebook was unable to contest the class action lawsuit filed in 2015 and moved to a settlement with the court in 2020. After the Illinois settlement broke, Texas filed a civil subpoena for what was then Facebook, requesting information about the facial recognition system.
A Texas prosecutor says Facebook’s facial recognition system ignored state legal requirements to capture users’ facial features. Texas law prohibits the collection of biometric identification information from individuals without their consent and the disclosure of that information. Unlike Illinois law, which resulted in a class action lawsuit, Texas law can only be enforced by the Attorney General. It provides for a $25,000 fine for each individual violation. Authorities estimate that at least 20 million Texans were on Facebook in 2021. That’s at least $500 billion.
Texas authorities say they are seeking civil penalties from Meta for all previous violations of the law. They also intend to prevent abuse of facial recognition data in the future, assuming Meta can still store it.
The Texas Attorney General believes Meta may use the collected data to make money, grossly violating the civil rights of the state’s residents. He notes that Facebook has received patents for systems that scan the faces of store visitors and match them with profiles of people on the social network.
It’s worth noting that Meta was asked by Texas authorities not to delete any data related to the facial recognition system after the company announced late last year that it was phasing out the feature.