Oct 20, 2022 - Technology

Texas sues Google over biometric data collection

Illustration of a gavel with a facial recognition frame tracing its shape

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued Google Thursday for allegedly collecting biometric identifiers without user consent.

Driving the news: The lawsuit alleges Google "has collected millions of biometric identifiers, including voiceprints and records of face geometry, from Texans through its products and services like Google Photos, Google Assistant, and Nest Hub Max," per a release from Paxton's office.

  • That's a violation of a Texas law governing biometric identifiers, which bans using personal information for commercial interests, Paxton argues. Violations could incur penalties up to $25,000 each, and the lawsuit alleges "millions" in Texas have been impacted.

The big picture: As tech giants push into markets like smart security systems and voice assistants, they find themselves in the crosshairs of state-level laws governing biometric privacy, including similar measures in Washington state and Illinois, where Clearview AI recently settled with the state over alleged violations.

What they're saying: "Google’s indiscriminate collection of the personal information of Texans, including very sensitive information like biometric identifiers, will not be tolerated," Paxton, who's made fighting Big Tech a political priority, said in the release.

The other side: "AG Paxton is once again mischaracterizing our products in another breathless lawsuit," said José Castañeda, a Google spokesperson.

  • Google Photos helps group similar faces together, he said, to more easily find old photos. The feature can be turned off and isn't used for advertising, he said.
  • "The same is true for Voice Match and Face Match on Nest Hub Max, which are off-by-default features that give users the option to let Google Assistant recognize their voice or face to show their information," he said. "We will set the record straight in court."

Flashback: Paxton sued Meta in February using the same law over its now-discontinued practice of using facial recognition for photo tagging.

  • In Illinois, where state law allows individuals to sue companies themselves, one suit against Google resulted in a $100 million settlement. The Texas law does not allow individuals to bring suit, just the attorney general.
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