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Texas sues Google over alleged nonconsensual harvesting of biometric data

You can kiss my Californian ass, says ad giant

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has sued Google claiming the internet titan captured biometric data from millions of Texans without notice and consent.

The lawsuit [PDF] claims the Google Photos app and the Google Assistant as well as the Nest Hub Max hardware, all collect biometric identifiers. These include voiceprints and face geometry data, which stands in violation of the state’s Capture or Use of Biometric Identifier Act (CUBI).

The complaint claims features like Face Grouping in Google Photos, which can sort people using a facial recognition algorithm, may analyze third-parties in pictures where parties never consented.

Paxton, a Republican in the midst of a tight re-election race, said in a statement, "Google’s indiscriminate collection of the personal information of Texans, including very sensitive information like biometric identifiers, will not be tolerated. I will continue to fight Big Tech to ensure the privacy and security of all Texans."

Republicans have made a habit of bashing "Big Tech." In Texas, one of the states to pass constitutionally dubious laws to constrain tech platform content moderation, Paxton has frequently targeted Google, having previously sued the search ad giant for deceptive trade practices and tracking mobile phone users' locations without consent.

Paxton himself was indicted for alleged securities fraud in 2015, a case that has not yet gone to trial. Last year, he was sued by Twitter to halt his allegedly retaliatory demand for content moderation information in the wake of Twitter's ban of Donald Trump. Twitter's claim was rejected by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and Twitter is seeking a rehearing before the full appeals court.

In February, Paxton sued Facebook parent Meta, the first lawsuit based on CUBI despite the fact that the biometric law dates back to 2009. That case remains unresolved, though it did prompt Meta's Instagram to ask app users in Texas to opt-in to its face image filters. Illinois and Washington are presently the only other states with biometric privacy laws.

Google, which recently settled a biometric privacy complaint filed in Illinois, disputed Paxton's assertions in an emailed statement.

"AG Paxton is once again mischaracterizing our products in another breathless lawsuit," a company spokesperson said. "For example, Google Photos helps you organize pictures of people, by grouping similar faces, so you can easily find old photos."

"Of course, this is only visible to you, you can easily turn off this feature if you choose and we do not use photos or videos in Google Photos for advertising purposes. 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. We will set the record straight in court." ®

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