Texas Sues Google Over Use Of Facial Recognition

The Texas attorney general sued Alphabet Inc.’s Google on Thursday, alleging the search giant violated state laws by collecting biometric data on face and voice features without seeking the full consent of users, The Wall Street Journal reported.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Texas alleged Google’s data-collection practices stretched back to 2015 and afflicted millions of the state’s residents, according to a complaint filed in the state district court in Midland Country, Texas.

The case follows a similar suit Texas brought against Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc. in February. Meta, which discontinued use of facial-recognition technology last year, said the claims were without merit.

In the latest complaint, Texas alleged Google had used features in Google Photos and Google Assistant, as well as its Nest smart-home products, to collect and store facial-and voice recognition data without obtaining proper consent.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Texas is leading a coalition of states suing Google for allegedly anticompetitive behavior in online advertising markets. Google has fought the claims and called some of them misleading. A federal judge last month denied the bulk of Google’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

The New York Times reported that the Texas attorney general filed a privacy lawsuit against Google on Thursday, accusing the internet company of collecting Texans’ facial and voice recognition information without their explicit consent.

According to The New York Times, Texas attorney general Ken Paxton said Google had violated a state consumer protection law that requires companies to inform citizens and get their consent before capturing their biometric identifiers, including fingerprints, voiceprints, and a “record of hand or face geometry.”

Violators of the law face fines of up to $25,000 per violation. Mr. Paxton said Google had millions of users in Texas who were potentially affected.

José Castañeda, a Google spokesman, said in a statement to The New York Times that Mr. Paxton “is once again mischaracterizing our products in another breathless lawsuit.” He added, “We will set the record straight in court.”

The New York Times also reported that the complaint targets the Google Photos app, which allows people to search for photos they took of a particular person; Google’s Nest camera, which can send alerts when it recognizes (or fails to recognize) a visitor at the door; and the voice-activated Google Assistant, which can learn to recognize up to six users’ voices to give them personalized answers to their questions.

Mr. Paxton said the products violated the rights of both users and nonusers, whose faces and voices were scanned or processed without their understanding or consent.

This whole thing stems from a Texas biometric privacy law that was passed in 2009, with Illinois and Washington passing similar laws around that time. Illinois’ law allows individuals to sue companies directly, but Texas must sue companies on consumers’ behalf.

Personally, I’m not a fan of most of the legislation that comes from Texas. However, I feel like there is something important about having the right to opt-out of being tracked or recorded by the products of big companies. I haven’t read the Texas law, and have no idea how a judge will decide the outcome of this case.