Texas Sues Facebook for Hundreds of Billions Over Facial Recognition Practices

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton reportedly sued Facebook on Monday for violating the state’s privacy protections for personal biometric data through facial recognition technology it used until recently.

Paxton filed the suit in a state district court in Marshall and sought civil penalties in the hundreds of billions of dollars because of the company’s history of recording facial geometry in photographs of users uploaded from 2010 to last year, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“Facebook has been secretly harvesting Texans’ most personal information — photos and videos — for its own corporate profit,” Paxton said in a statement. “Texas law has prohibited such harvesting without informed consent for over 20 years. While ordinary Texans have been using Facebook to innocently share photos of loved ones with friends and family, we now know that Facebook has been brazenly ignoring Texas law for the last decade.”

The unusually large size of civil penalties being sought by Texas is indicative of a growing trend of punishing the Big Tech companies for violating state privacy laws.

Facebook settled another lawsuit filed in Illinois in 2015 over its facial recognition practices for approximately $650 million. That lawsuit was brought under Illinois’s biometric privacy law, which requires people to consent before their biometric data can be recorded and is similar in some ways to the Texas law.

Texas says Facebook’s facial recognition system, which was discontinued last November, did not follow the state’s legal requirements for recording users’ facial features.

“For over a decade, while holding itself out as a trusted meeting place for Texans to connect and share special moments with family and friends, Facebook was secretly capturing, disclosing, unlawfully retaining — and profiting off of — Texans’ most personal and highly sensitive information: records of their facial geometries, which Texas law refers to as biometric identifiers,” the state said, according to a draft of the legal complaint reviewed by the Wall Street Journal.

Facebook has not responded to a request for comment.