Texas sues Google over alleged ‘indiscriminate’ biometric data collection

By Brian Fung, CNN Business

CNN – Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued Google on Thursday, alleging the tech giant had violated the state’s biometric privacy law by “indiscriminately” collecting voiceprints and facial recognition data from users and non-users of the company’s products without their consent.

The lawsuit, filed in Texas’ Midland County District Court, claims the company’s broad application of facial recognition technology in Google Photos, as well as its use of voice recognition technology in its line of smart speakers and other home products, is a violation of the state’s Capture or Use of Biometric Identifier Act.

In a statement, Google (GOOG) vowed to fight the allegations in court and accused Paxton of “mischaracterizing our products in another breathless lawsuit.”

“Google Photos helps you organize pictures of people, by grouping similar faces, so you can easily find old photos,” said Google spokesperson José Castañeda. “Of course, this is only visible to you and 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.”

In Google Photos, Google scans uploaded images to identify and categorize pictured subjects, including people who may not have been aware their faces would be analyzed or stored, the complaint said. The company has also allegedly listened in on Texans “without regard to whether a speaker has consented to Google’s indiscriminate voice printing,” according to the complaint.

The complaint describes Google’s Nest Hub Max, a smart home display with a built-in camera, as “a modern Eye of Sauron—constantly watching and waiting to identify a face it knows.”

“All across the state, everyday Texans have become unwitting cash cows being milked by Google for profits,” the complaint said.

Texas is one of just a few states with a law governing the use of biometric data, and this marks the second time that Texas has invoked the 2009 law to file a suit against a company. In February, the state claimed a now-shuttered Facebook photo-tagging tool — which was the subject of a $650 million biometric privacy settlement in Illinois last year — had also been a violation of the Texas biometric law.

Texas has multiple lawsuits ongoing against Google, including two other consumer protection cases and an antitrust case targeting Google’s dominance in digital advertising.

– CNN’s Rachel Metz contributed to this report.

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