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Friday, December 2, 2022

Google is being sued by the state of Texas for allegedly collecting biometric data without obtaining consent

On Thursday, the Attorney General of Texas launched a privacy complaint against Google, accusing the internet firm of gathering information about Texans’ faces and voices using facial and voice recognition technology without first obtaining their express permission.

The state’s attorney general, Ken Paxton, claimed that Google had broken a state consumer protection law that requires businesses to inform citizens and get their consent before capturing their biometric identifiers. These identifiers include fingerprints, voiceprints, and a “record of hand or face geometry.” Google was accused of breaking this law.

Those who break the law may be fined up to $25,000 for each infraction they commit. Mr. Paxton said that the breach may possibly harm millions of Google users in the state of Texas.

Mr. Paxton stated in a statement that “Google’s indiscriminate acquisition of the personal information of Texans, including particularly sensitive information like biometric identifiers, will not be accepted.” Google has been accused of collecting this information without the consent of Texans. “I will continue to battle Big Tech to guarantee the privacy and security of all Texans,” she said.

Mr. Paxton, according to a statement released by a Google spokesperson named José Castaeda, “is once again mischaracterizing our products in another breathless litigation.” He also stated, “We will put the record right in court.”

The Google Photos app, the Nest camera, which can send alerts when it recognises (or fails to recognise) a visitor at the door, and the voice-activated Google Assistant are the targets of the complaint. The Nest camera can send alerts when it recognises (or fails to recognise) a visitor at the door. The voice-activated Google Assistant can learn to recognise up to six users’ voices in order to give those users personalised answers to their questions. According to Mr. Paxton, the items infringed the rights of both the people who used them and the people who did not use them since their faces and voices were scanned or processed without their comprehension or agreement.

In the years since he became attorney general in 2015, Mr. Paxton has engaged in a number of high-profile legal battles against major technology corporations. In 2020, his office joined forces with nine other states to pursue a class action lawsuit against Google for antitrust violations. After the violence that occurred at the United States on January 6, 2021, In the name of the investigation, Mr. Paxton from the Capitol addressed requests to Twitter, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, asking for specifics on how these companies moderate their material. During this year, he initiated an inquiry into Twitter for bogus account activity.

In 2009, Texas became the first state to establish a biometric privacy legislation; around the same time, Illinois and Washington each passed bills with very identical language. In contrast to Texas, where customers are required to have the state sue firms on their behalf, the legislation in Illinois permits people to file lawsuits directly against businesses. Up until this year, Texas has not been known for its strict adherence to the law.

On the other hand, hundreds of class-action lawsuits concerning biometric privacy have been filed in Illinois. One of these claims was brought against Google in 2016, and it only just resulted in a settlement for $100 million.

According to Omer Tene, a privacy lawyer working for the company Goodwin, “the single most significant distinction is that Illinois provides a private right of action, while Texas does not.” When it comes to the priorities of the attorney general, this hasn’t figured high on the list. It’s possible that this may take on a more important role going forward.”

In February, Mr. Paxton was the first person to bring a lawsuit using the Texas biometric privacy statute. He sued Meta, the company that controls Facebook, for doing facial recognition on images in order to make it simpler for users to tag persons in photos with whom they are familiar. The timing looked strange given that Meta had stopped using facial recognition for photo-tagging on Facebook after using it for a decade, and announced intentions to erase the accompanying face scan data, months before it was sued for breach of contract.

Mr. Paxton was in the latter months of a close fight against George P. Bush for the Republican nomination for attorney general, which is an elected position in the state of Texas. At the time, the contest was taking place in Texas. Mr. Paxton became victorious from the primaries.

The case being brought against Meta is still active. It has already had one effect on Texan consumers, which is that they are now required to give Meta, which owns Instagram, permission to analyse their facial features before they can use certain face filters that can transform their appearance into something like a puppy or a monster with googly eyes.

In the run-up to an election, a legal lawsuit was also filed against Google to be used as evidence. In the general election that will take place the following month, Mr. Paxton will be challenged by a Democrat by the name of Rochelle Garza.

Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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