Texas Sues Google Over Alleged Privacy Violations

Google has settled two other privacy complaints for nearly $200 million in recent months.

Google is headed to court, again, to defend itself against accusations of privacy violations. 

On Thursday Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced that his office sued Google for allegedly gathering biometric data from millions of Texans without their informed consent. 

“Google’s indiscriminate collection of the personal information of Texans, including very sensitive information like biometric identifiers, will not be tolerated,” Paxton said. “I will continue to fight Big Tech to ensure the privacy and security of all Texans.”

The state says that despite the fact that it has barred companies from capturing the biometric data of its citizens for decades, Google has being doing so since at least 2015 through its “Face Grouping” technology. 

Not only has the company been surreptitiously collecting private data from Texans, but it has also been using the data to aid in its own financial growth, according to the lawsuit. 

The lawsuit draws a line between the company’s previous CEO Eric Schmidt and the company’s new leadership, saying that previous leaders were more concerned about privacy issues. 

“Today, Google has a new CEO and a new ethos, having tossed CEO Schmidt’s promises into the rubbish heap alongside Google’s abandoned ‘don’t be evil’ mantra,” the lawsuit says.

Face Grouping Violations

Face Grouping allows Google to create a record, or a face template, for every specific face loaded into the system through Google Photos. 

Google then takes those templates and cross references them with the images already in its system. It then groups those photos together and unleashes its “FaceNet” technology on the images, and that’s where things really start to get weird. 

“Google introduced FaceNet, in other words, as a tool to better capture an individual’s unique face geometry. Upon information and belief, FaceNet is the engine behind Google Photos’ ability to detect and map the geometry of millions of faces throughout Texas,” according to the lawsuit. 

Google did not immediately return a request for comment. 

While the lawsuit does not include the monetary figure the state is seeking, it does include a condemnation of Google’s Nest line of home security products.

Those products come equipped with the voice-activated Google Assistant, which the lawsuit points out “records your voice and audio, plus a few seconds before, when you use audio activations.”

All of this data is also gathered to create detailed profiles of people that now contain both photos and audio. 

Not Google’s First Rodeo

This isn’t the first time Google is facing a lawsuit from a U.S. state over privacy issues. 

Earlier this month, Google was ordered to pay $85 million to end a consumer privacy lawsuit filed by the state of Arizona.

Arizona filed the lawsuit in May 2020, accusing Google of continuing to track user locations without consent even after they turned off location history in settings in order to increase ad revenue

$77.25 million of the settlement will reportedly go to funding education, broadband, and internet privacy efforts. The rest of the money goes to the lawyers.

In June, Illinois residents were given an opportunity to receive part of the $100 million class-action settlement the state got from Google over the same biometrics issues surrounding Face Grouping and Google Photos. 

Residents who appeared in a photo between May 1, 2015 and April 25, 2022, were eligible for a piece of the pie. 

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