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Texas sues Facebook-parent Meta for allegedly collecting the ‘most intimate data’ of users

February 15, 2022, 12:29 AM UTC

Facebook parent Meta has another legal battle to deal with—this time involving the state of Texas.

The Texas attorney general filed a lawsuit on Monday against the social media giant, alleging that it had illegally collected biometric data and engaged in deceptive business practices.

The lawsuit is similar to a previous facial-recognition related Facebook lawsuit involving the state of Illinois that Meta eventually settled in 2021 for $650 million. In that lawsuit, Illinois alleged that Meta improperly collected user facial data without consent. 

In its suit, Texas alleged that Texas-based Facebook users “were oblivious to the fact that Facebook—without their permission—was capturing biometric information from photos and videos that users had uploaded for the sole purpose of sharing with family and friends.”

“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 lawsuit said.

A Meta spokesperson told Fortune in a statement that “These claims are without merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously.” 

Here are some of the highlights of the lawsuit:

Texas has a bone to pick with “tagging”

The lawsuit largely focuses on a now-shuttered Facebook feature that let users “tag” people in photos and videos, which helped improve Meta’s facial-recognition technology. In 2019, amid intense criticism, Facebook said users would have to “opt-in” to use the tagging feature. Last year, the company shut down all of its facial recognition services.

Texas lawyers alleged that Facebook engaged in deceptive business practices by intentionally avoiding using the term ‘biometric’ to describe the tagging feature “because it knew that doing so would ‘scare people off’ from using the service.”

Something’s up with Instagram

Texas lawyers alleged that Facebook illegally captures user biometric data through its Instagram photo and video sharing service. The lawsuit doesn’t explain how it’s done, but said that “Facebook has been secretly subjecting all photos uploaded to Instagram to its facial-recognition technology, with no way for Instagram users (or non-users) to know about it, let alone prevent Facebook from harvesting maps of their facial geometry.”

This allegation about Instagram is similar to a previous allegation made in a separate Aug. 2020 lawsuit. That class-action lawsuit, filed by plaintiff Kelly Whalen in a California state court, alleged that Meta improperly collects, stores, and profits from the biometric data of over 100 million Instagram users.

Here come the penalties

Texas wants Meta to pay $25,000 per violation of the state’s biometric laws and $10,000 per violation of its deceptive business practices laws. In a press conference on Monday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton told reporters that Meta’s proposed fines could total in the billions of dollars. 

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