Texas Sues Google for Obtaining Biometric Information Without Authorization

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On Thursday, the Texas Attorney General filed a privacy complaint against Google. He said that the company was collecting information about Texans’ faces and voices without their permission.

Ken Paxton, the state’s attorney general, said Google broke a law protecting consumers that says companies have to tell people and get their permission before capturing biometric identifiers like fingerprints, voiceprints, and a “record of hand or facial geometry.”

People who break the law could be fined up to $25,000 per offense. Paxton said that Google had a lot of users in Texas who could be hurt.

Paxton said in a statement, “Google’s random collection of personal information about Texans, including very sensitive information like biometric identifiers, will not be tolerated.” “I will keep fighting Big Tech to protect the privacy and safety of everyone in Texas.”

In a statement, José Castaeda, a Google spokesperson, said that Paxton “is again misrepresenting our products in another crazy lawsuit.” “We will clear things up in court,” he said.

The complaint specifically mentions the Google Photos app, which lets users search for photos they took of a specific person; Google’s Nest camera, which can send alerts when it recognizes (or doesn’t recognize) a visitor at the door; and the voice-activated Google Assistant.

Texas Sues Google for Obtaining Biometric Information Without Authorization

which can learn to recognize up to six users’ voices and give them personalized answers to their questions. Paxton said that the items violated the rights of both users and non-users because their faces and voices were scanned or processed without their knowledge or permission.

In the years since Paxton became Attorney General in 2015, he has taken on many Big Tech companies. In 2020, his agency and nine other states took Google to court for unfair competition.

After the fight at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, Paxton sent subpoenas to Twitter, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google to find out more about how they control the content on their sites. This year, he looked into Twitter because there were fake accounts.

In 2009, Texas passed a law about biometric privacy. Around the same time, Illinois and Washington also did the same.

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In Illinois, the law lets people sue businesses directly, but in Texas, businesses have to go to court on behalf of their customers. Texas didn’t start following its law until this year.

In Illinois, on the other hand, there have been hundreds of class-action lawsuits about biometric privacy. One of these was brought against Google in 2016 and recently ended in a $100 million settlement.

“The biggest difference is that Illinois has a private right of action and Texas does not,” said Omer Tene, a privacy lawyer at Goodwin. “This hasn’t been very important to the attorney general. Maybe it will get more attention today.”

In February, Paxton filed the first lawsuit under the Texas biometric privacy law. He sued Meta, which owns Facebook, for using face recognition on images to make it easier for users to tag people they knew.

Meta had said months before it was sued that it planned to delete the linked face scan data, even though it had used facial recognition for tagging photos on Facebook for a decade.

Texas Sues Google for Obtaining Biometric Information Without Authorization

Paxton was in the last few months of a heated campaign against George P. Bush for the Republican nomination for attorney general, a statewide office in Texas. Paxton won the election for the primary.

The case against Meta is still being heard. It has already had one effect on Texans: they must now give Meta, which owns Instagram, permission to analyze their facial features so they can use certain face filters that can make them look like a puppy or a monster with googly eyes.

In the weeks before an election, Google was also sued in court. In the general election next month, Paxton will be running against Rochelle Garza, who is a Democrat.

The complaint filed in Midland County district court says, “Google has spent years illegally capturing the faces and voices of both nonconsenting users and nonusers throughout Texas, including our children and grandparents, who have no idea that their biometric information is being mined for profit by a global corporation.”

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