Texas Sues Meta over Facebook Facial Recognition Data

    20 February 2022

    The state of Texas is suing Facebook's parent company Meta over its collection of facial recognition data.

    The lawsuit, filed on February 14, accuses the social media company of illegally capturing biometric information from pictures and videos of users.

    Biometric systems are designed to collect biological data that is unique to each person in order to identify individuals. Facial recognition is one kind of biometric method. Such systems use similar methods to those used in fingerprinting technology.

    3D-printed images of logos of Facebook parent Meta Platforms and of Facebook are seen on a laptop keyboard in this illustration taken on November 2, 2021. (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration)
    3D-printed images of logos of Facebook parent Meta Platforms and of Facebook are seen on a laptop keyboard in this illustration taken on November 2, 2021. (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration)

    The lawsuit says that Facebook collected the biometric data for business purposes. It also accused the company of sharing the information with third parties and failing to destroy the information within a reasonable amount of time.

    Attorney General Ken Paxton took the case to a state court in Marshall, Texas. He 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 lawsuit states that Meta's collection operation had stored "millions of biometric identifiers." These include information related to eye scans, voice recordings and hand and face features. The data came from photos and video users uploaded to Meta's social media services, including Facebook and Instagram.

    Paxton said the collection process had used "people and their children with the intent to turn a profit at the expense of one's safety and well-being."

    Under Texas law, companies are barred from gathering or using biometric data of an individual unless they have received that individual's permission to do so.

    State law also bars companies from sharing such data with others. A few exceptions to the rule include law enforcement.

    The Wall Street Journal reported that a person with knowledge of the lawsuit told the newspaper Texas was seeking hundreds of billions of dollars in damages. In 2020, Meta agreed to pay $650 million to settle a state lawsuit in Illinois that dealt with similar issues.

    In a statement, Meta promised to fight the accusations and said the lawsuit was "without merit."

    In November, the company announced it was ending its facial recognition system. The system was designed to identify users based on physical features in photos and videos.

    At the time, a Meta official said the company still saw facial recognition technology as a powerful tool. But the official noted that the situations where it can be helpful "need to be weighed against growing concerns about this technology as a whole."

    Last week, Meta settled a 10-year-old lawsuit related to another privacy issue. The company agreed to pay $90 million to a group of users who accused it of following their internet activity even after they had signed out of the Facebook social media service.

    As part of that lawsuit, Meta agreed to remove all the data it had "wrongfully collected" during 2010 and 2011. While the company denied wrongdoing, it agreed to settle the case to avoid the costs and risks of a trial, settlement papers showed.

    I'm Bryan Lynn.

    Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from The Associated Press, Reuters and Facebook.


    Words in This Story

    sue – v. to seek justice or right from (a person) by legal process

    lawsuit – n. a process by which a court of law makes a decision to end a disagreement between people or organizations

    unique – adj. different from everyone and everything else

    deceit – n. attempts to make someone believe something that is not true

    practice – n. the usual way of doing something

    scan – v. to use a special machine to read or copy (something, such as a photograph or a page of text) into a computer

    feature – n. a typical quality or important part of something

    intent – n. a purpose or aim

    at the expense of – phr. in a way that harms someone or something

    merit – n. good qualities that deserve praise

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