Texas Lawsuit Claims Facebook’s Facial Recognition Violated User Privacy and Broke the Law

Texas Lawsuit Claims Facebook’s Facial Recognition Violated User Privacy and Broke the Law
Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev, Getty Images

Texas attorney general Ken Paxton has taken yet another swing at Big Tech, this time suing Meta for allegedly capturing and using facial recognition data on millions of users without their consent. In the suit, Paxton claims Meta’s unauthorised use of the tech — which the company claims it has now largely abandoned — violated Texas’s Capture or Use of Biometric Identifier Act.

“Facebook has, for over a decade, built an Artificial Intelligence empire on the backs of Texans by deceiving them while capturing their most intimate data, thereby putting their well being, safety and security at risk,” the suit reads. “While holding itself out as a trusted meeting place for Texans to connect and share special moments with family and friends, Facebook was secretly capturing, disclosing, unlawfully retaining — and profiting off of — Texans’ most personal and highly sensitive information: records of their facial geometrics, which Texas law refers to as biometric identifiers.”

In addition to allegedly capturing facial data without users’ consent, the suit claims the company violated Texas law by sharing that data with third parties. The suit goes on to accuse Meta of failing to destroy data in a reasonable time.

The suit claims the data harvesting may have impacted as many as 20.5 million Texas Facebook users who were on the platform before the end of 2021. Going further though, the suit claims the unauthorised data gathering practices have included a larger swath of people who weren’t Facebook users but may have incidentally had their face scanned if they were featured in an image someone else uploaded to the site.

“Unlike a social security number that can be changed or a driver’s licence that can be changed, or other information that could potentially be captured by social media companies, this can’t be changed,” Paxton said in a press event. “Once they have your biometric identifiers, that information is out in the public because it has been sold. They’ve let the genie out of the bottle.”

In an email to Gizmodo, a Meta spokesperson said, “These claims are without merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously.”

As previously mentioned, the Texas suit arrives several months after Meta shocked the world by saying the blue app would shutter its facial recognition systems and delete the facial templates used to recognise Facebook users. But here’s where Facebook’s name change from October makes things annoying complicated once again.

When Meta announced Facebook would end facial recognition, the company confirmed with Gizmodo that this change did not necessarily apply to tech used on its other properties. Meanwhile, the recent Texas suit repeatedly uses Facebook as a catch-all descriptor even though the suit appears to apply to the company as a whole… which is Meta.

If you’re confused, please send your complaints to Zuckerberg and Paxton.

The Meta suits add to a growing volume of lengthy legal tomes levied against Big Tech by Paxton in recent months, some potentially bearing more actual merit than others.

Back in 2020 Paxton’s office joined a coalition of 47 other attorneys general and launched a separate antitrust suit against then-Facebook accusing the company of engaging in anticompetitive practices to create a monopoly in social media. That same year, the agency issued another suit against Google accusing the company of illegally abusing its market power to control the way online ads are priced. Google, for its part, has vigorously denied these claims and just recently filed a motion to dismiss Texas’ case.

Most recently, in a more bizarre twist, Paxton last week announced his office launched an investigation into GoFundMe following the company’s decision to take down a fundraising effort for an anti-vaccine mandate protest in Canada.

Texas represents just one of many states vying to take on Big Tech themselves in lieu of any coherent federal data privacy or social media legislation. In addition to the attorney’s general suits, somewhere around two dozen cities and states across the U.S. have stepped up their efforts to curtail public facial recognition use in recent years.

You can view the full Meta lawsuit below:


Editor’s Note: Release dates within this article are based in the U.S., but will be updated with local Australian dates as soon as we know more.