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Texas sues Meta, saying it misused facial recognition data

FILE photo - Texas sued Meta on Monday over misuse of biometric data, the latest round of litigation between governments and the company over privacy.
Tony Gutierrez
FILE photo - Texas sued Meta on Monday over misuse of biometric data, the latest round of litigation between governments and the company over privacy.

Updated February 15, 2022 at 11:52 AM ET

Texas sued Facebook parent company Meta for exploiting the biometric data of millions of people in the state — including those who used the platform and those who did not. The company, according to a suitfiled by state Attorney General Ken Paxton, violated state privacy laws and should be responsible for billions of dollars in damages.

The suit involves Facebook's "tag suggestions" feature, which the company ended last year, that used facial recognition to encourage users to link the photo to a friend's profile.

Paxton alleged the company collected facial recognition data without their consent, shared it with third parties, and did not destroy the information in a timely manner — all in violation of state law.

"The scope of Facebook's misconduct is staggering," the complaint reads. "Facebook repeatedly captured Texans' biometric identifiers without their consent not hundreds, or thousands, or millions of times — but billions of times, all in violation of CUBI and the DTPA."

Paxton said at a news conference outside of the Harrison County Courthouse on Monday that the fine for each violation of the Capture or Use of Biometric Identifier Act and the Deceptive Trade Practices Act is $25,000.

A Meta spokesperson told NPR "these claims are without merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously." The company shut down its facial recognition feature in November after a decade in operation. In a blog post announcing the decision, Jerome Pesenti, vice president of Artificial Intelligence, wrote that Facebook needed "to weigh the positive use cases for facial recognition against growing societal concerns, especially as regulators have yet to provide clear rules."

The company also said then it would delete the data it held on more than 1 billion users.

Last year, Facebook settled a class action suit brought by users who said their data had been used without their consent for $650 million.

Texas filed suit on Monday in a state district court in the small city of Marshall. It's unclear why the attorney general's office selected that specific jurisdiction. The state hired two outside law firms to argue the case.

"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 announcing the lawsuit. "This is yet another example of Big Tech's deceitful business practices and it must stop."

The Electronic Privacy Information Center applauded the lawsuit. "A lot of the action around protecting biometric privacy has been centered in places like Illinois and California, but this case shows that other states are starting to take the issue seriously," John Davisson, the center's director of litigation and senior counsel, told NPR.

"If the case succeeds, it could mean a major financial award for Texas," he added, "which the state should put toward protecting privacy and compensating Texans who were caught up in Facebook's facial recognition system."

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Peter Granitz