Texas prosecutor sues Meta over Facebook facial recognition - fines could reach $500 billion

The attorney general of the state of Texas, has filed a lawsuit against Meta, claiming that facial recognition technology, which has not been used by the company on its Facebook-owned social network for some time, has violated the privacy of residents of that state. According to people familiar with the matter, the suit seeks hundreds of billions of dollars in administrative penalties.

In a statement, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said facial recognition in photos that users uploaded to Facebook from 2010 until late last year led to tens of millions of violations of state law. "Facebook secretly collects Texans' most personal information - their photos and videos - for its own corporate benefit," Paxton said. Texas laws have prohibited such data collection for more than 20 years, he said.

Meta has not yet commented on the situation. However, the company had previously settled another similar lawsuit in Illinois, paying $650 million in damages. The class action lawsuit, filed in 2015, Facebook was unable to contest and went to a settlement with the court in 2020. After word of the Illinois settlement, Texas issued a civil subpoena to then-Facebook asking for information about the facial recognition system.

The Texas state's attorney claims that Facebook's facial recognition system ignored the state's legal requirements for capturing users' facial features. Texas law prohibits the collection of people's biometric identification information without their consent and prohibits sharing that information. Unlike the Illinois law, which led to a class action lawsuit, the Texas law can only be enforced by the attorney general. It imposes 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 to recover civil penalties from Meta for all past violations of the law. They also intend to prevent any future misuse of the facial recognition data, suggesting that Meta may still retain it.

The Texas Attorney General believes that Meta may be using the collected data for money-making purposes, grossly violating the civil rights of state residents. He notes that Facebook obtained patents on systems that scan the faces of store visitors and match them to people's profiles on the social network.

It's worth noting that Texas authorities demanded that Meta not delete data related to the facial recognition system after the company announced it was abandoning the feature late last year.


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