Facebook’s parent company is facing new legal woes in Texas. The state Attorney General has filed a lawsuit against Meta that alleges that the company’s use of facial recognition technology on its social media platforms violated the privacy rights of Texas residents.
In that regard, the Texas lawsuit is similar to the class action suit that Facebook fielded in Illinois. That case argued that the tech giant did not inform users about its biometric data collection practices, and that it failed to obtain consent before applying facial recognition technology to images uploaded to Facebook and Instagram.
Meta’s actions in that case ran afoul of Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), and ultimately led to a $650 million settlement for affected victims. The Texas case, on the other hand, concerns the state’s Capture or Use of Biometric Identifier (CUBI) Act. CUBI is similar to BIPA insofar as it requires informed consent for biometric data collection, though it differs sharply when it comes to enforcement. CUBI does not include a private right of action, which means that individual citizens cannot file a lawsuit against an offending company. Enforcement is instead left to the sole discretion of the Attorney General’s office, which is likely why there have been far fewer CUBI lawsuits than BIPA lawsuits even though CUBI was passed in 2009.
In his complaint, Texas AG Ken Paxton took particular issue with Facebook’s tagging system, which used facial recognition to automatically tag the same face across multiple photos. Meta claimed that it was ending its use of facial recognition in the wake of its settlement, though the tagging feature would have been subject to CUBI law when it was introduced in 2010. Instagram has also started using selfie videos during logins, although it insists that the videos are only being used for liveness detection and not for authentication.
Paxton is seeking a $25,000 fine for each individual violation of CUBI, in addition to $10,000 for each violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Meta would theoretically need to pay hundreds of billions of dollars if those numbers hold, though the company has indicated that it plans to contest the legal action. The lawsuit also wants Meta to end any unauthorized use of biometric data collected from Texas residents. Paxton started investigating Facebook in 2020, though he is currently facing corruption allegations as he embarks on his re-election campaign.
February 15, 2022 – by Eric Weiss