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Texas Sues Google Over Facial Data Collection

The state of Texas is suing Google for illegally collecting Texans’ facial and voice recognition information without their consent, according to a statement issued by the state attorney general’s office on Thursday.

For over a decade, a Texas consumer protection law has barred companies from collecting data on Texans’ faces, voices or other biometric identifiers without receiving prior informed consent. Ken Paxton, the state’s attorney general, said Google violated this law by recording identifiers such as “a retina or iris scan, fingerprint, voiceprint, or record of hand or face geometry.

“In blatant defiance of that law, Google has, since at least 2015, collected biometric data from innumerable Texans and used their faces and their voices to serve Google’s commercial ends. Indeed, all across the state, everyday Texans have become unwitting cash cows being milked by Google for profits.”

The law imposes a $25,000 fine for every violation. According to reports, millions of users in Texas had their information stored. The complaint explicitly references the Google Photos app, Google’s Nest camera, and Google Assistant as means of collection.

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A spokesman for Google, José Castañeda, accused Paxton of “mischaracterizing” products in “another breathless lawsuit.”

“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, 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. We will set the record straight in court.”

This lawsuit is the latest in a string of major cases brought against the company. Earlier this month, Arizona settled a privacy suit against Google for $85 million. Indiana, Washington and the District of Columbia also sued Google in January over privacy invasions related to location tracking.

In a much larger antitrust case, 36 states filed a lawsuit against Google in July over its control of the Android app store.

Paxton has gone after large technology corporations in the past for their privacy and monopolizing practices. In 2020, his office joined nine other states in filing an antitrust lawsuit against Google, which accused it of “working with Facebook Inc. in an unlawful manner that violated antitrust law to boost its already-dominant online advertising business.”

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After the Jan. 6 insurrection, Paxton demanded Twitter, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google to be transparent about their content moderation procedures. This year, he also opened an investigation into Twitter over its reported percentage of fake accounts, saying that the company may be disingenuous about its numbers to inflate its value and raise its revenue.

In February, Paxton sued Meta for facial recognition software it provided users to help tag photos. The lawsuit is ongoing. However, Instagram is now required to ask for permission to analyze Texans’ facial features to properly use facial filters.

“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.”

In 2009, Texas revealed its privacy law, which covered biometric identifiers. Other states were implementing similar laws around the country during this same time. Texas was unique in that in the case of violations, the state of Texas would have to sue on behalf of the consumers.

virtualrealty

The Newest VR Headset To Be Released In October From Meta

On Thursday, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed the latest addition to his line of virtual reality headsets will be making their debut in October.

The new product from Meta is expected to be fully revealed at the Meta’s annual Connect event which usually takes place sometime within the month of October.

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The codenamed “Project Cambria” is set to contain features that will help users experience the feeling of social presence and have them feel more connected with other users.

Some of the features that will be included with the new VR headset will be more eye- and facial- tracking features. These new features will allow digital avatars to smile and frown within the virtual reality. 

“For me, this stuff is all about, like, helping people connect… I just started thinking about… what would be the ultimate expression of, basically, people using technology to feel present with each other, right? It’s not phones, it’s not computers.”

The new VR headset is supposed to contain a high-resolution color screen, internal sensor for the eye tracking and sophisticated augmented reality. 

The name of the VR headset has yet to be revealed but the cost of the headset is projected to cost around $800. This is a significant price jump up from the popular Quest 2 headset which costed $399 to $499 depending on the model. 

“In the previous version eye contact was all just AI simulated, we didn’t actually know when you were making eye contact because we weren’t tracking the eyes. Now for this version, and hopefully a lot of the different ones we build going forward, you’ll be able to have realistic facial expressions and more transmitted directly to your avatar,” said Zuckerberg. 

In a recent interview on Joe Rogan’s podcast, Rogan was allowed to be one of the first people who got to try out the new VR headset. He stated that he was impressed with all the features and how well his avatar was able to match his facial expression and eyes. 

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“It’s getting to the point where it’s mimicking human patterns in kind of a creepy way,” said Rogan. 

Over the last few years, Meta has been putting a lot of their effort and money into VR and augmented reality to keep expanding and evolving the world of computers and how people interact with them. 

According to Digital Trends, VR players usually identify themselves and have a strong connection to their alternates in virtual reality where real connections can be formed. 

With the increase of the technology, it could become a huge stepping stone in the world of virtual reality.

EU, U.K. To Open Antitrust Investigations Into Ad Bidding Agreement Between Meta, Google

EU and U.K. regulators have opened parallel antitrust investigations on tech titans Google and Meta for a possibly illegal ad bidding agreement that took place back in September of 2018, which eliminated competition between the two and allowed for a controlling of the market.

According to a press release by the European Commission (EC), through the agreement — known as “Jedi Blue” — “a competing technology to Google’s Open Bidding may have been targeted with the aim to weaken it and exclude it from the market for displaying ads on publisher websites and apps.”

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“If confirmed by our investigation, this would restrict and distort competition in the already concentrated ad tech market, to the detriment of rival ad serving technologies, publishers and ultimately consumers,” the statement read.

Meanwhile, the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) stated their own concern that Meta and Google put obstacles in the way of “competitors who provide important online display advertising services to publishers.” Like the EC, the CMA emphasized that the agreement could significantly damage the industry, particularly when it comes to smaller businesses.

“If one company has a stranglehold over a certain area, it can make it hard for start-ups and smaller businesses to break into the market – and may ultimately reduce customer choice.”

As The Verge notes, the Jedi Blue agreement is already under investigation in the U.S., where 15 state attorney generals have filed lawsuits against Meta and Google. The Verge also detailed the traces of Jedi Blue, which go back to 2017, when Meta (then Facebook) made a decision to support an adtech system that would rival Google.

The lawsuits claim Meta dropped that technology when Google offered them special access to its online ad bidding system. Meta was then able to be the first in line when buying real estate ads from Google, and proceeded to stop investing into rivaling ad technology or use any header bidding.

The probes could take years to complete, as the EC stated there is no legal deadline for bringing an antitrust investigation to an end. The length depends on a number of factors, from the complexity of the case to the extent of Google and Meta’s cooperation. Appeals by the companies could also draw out the process.

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If found guilty of breaking the law, the companies could be subject to a fine up to 10% of worldwide turnover, along with legally binding directions to bring the breach to an end. In 2021, Meta saw a $117 billion annual revenue while Google reached $258 billion, so 10% wouldn’t exactly be chump change.

The companies have denied any wrongdoing, and labeled the allegations as false. “This is a publicly documented, pro-competitive agreement that enables Facebook Audience Network (FAN) to participate in our Open Bidding program, along with dozens of other companies,” Google said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Meta explained the agreement has helped to not only increase competition for ad bidding, but enables them to bring more value to advertisers and publishers, resulting in a “better outcome for all.”

For Meta, the probe is just one of numerous messy situations currently occurring to the company in Europe. Russia wants them to be labeled as an “extremist organization” and have all their activities banned in the country following claims that they broke laws on terrorist propaganda while inciting hatred.

Billionaire Businessman, Orlando Bravo, Claims The Metaverse Will Be Big, And Should Be Invested In 

Puerto Rican billionaire businessman Orlando Bravo, co-founder and managing partner of the private equity firm Thoma Bravo, claimed this week that the metaverse will be the “big word of 2021, and is a big time investment.” 

“The metaverse is very investable, and it’s going to be very big.” 

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Much like the movie “Ready Player One,” the metaverse is a sci-fi concept where humans put on some sort of virtual reality gear that allows them to live, work, and play in a virtual world. The concept has been viewed as a utopian dream, and a dystopian nightmare, depending on your standpoint. 

Facebook’s co-founder Mark Zuckerberg announced his company’s plans for the metaverse last month. Zuckerberg also recently changed the name of Facebook to Meta, claiming the new company will have a major focus on the metaverse. 

“The metaverse is the next frontier just like social networking was when we got started.”

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The entire concept of the metaverse has been heavily debated online. One marketing campaign in Iceland even went as far as to mock the metaverse announcement video as a means of bringing in tourists. In the video, a Zuckerberg lookalike introduces viewers to “Icelandverse, a place of enhanced actual reality without the silly-looking headsets.” 

Beyond Facebook, tech giants like Microsoft, Roblox, and Nvidia are already trying to enhance their software so that it’s compatible with the metaverse, and can even be used to power it if needed. 

Thomas Bravo alone has more than $83 billion in assets under management and a portfolio that contains more than 40 software companies. Beyond his excitement for the metaverse, Bravo also discussed his passion for cryptocurrency and bitcoin. 

“How could you not love crypto? Crypto is just a great system. It’s frictionless. It’s decentralized. And young people want their own financial system. So it is here to stay,” Bravo said.