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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.

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Google Introduces New Tool To Help Minors Delete Their Photos From Search 

Google is now making it easier for minors or their parents to delete photos from search results within their devices. 

Google posted a blog post this week in which they detailed how they’ll be rolling out a tool that allows parents and their kids, younger than the age of 18, to request the removal of images from Google’s imaging tab, as well as request to have the images no longer appear as thumbnails in search inquiries. 

Google previously released methods for users to request the removal of personal information and photos that are deemed as “non-consensually explicit” or reveal “financial, medical, and national identification” information. The company’s newest security measures extend that protection to images of minors. 

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“We know that kids and teens have to navigate some unique challenges online, especially when a picture of them is unexpectedly available on the internet. We believe this change will help give young people more control over their digital footprint and where their images can be found on Search.”

The company’s blog post explained how the new form allows users to flag certain URLs that contain any images or search results that they want removed. Google will then review each submission and reach out to the user if additional information is needed. 

Google did emphasize, however, that these requests won’t result in the total removal of a particular image from the internet, and users will likely need to contact a website’s webmaster to ask for specific content to be removed. 

The company announced this new tool back in August as a part of their larger plan to protect minors across its platforms. Other features within Google such as “Family Link” allow parents to better monitor their kids accounts and internet activity. 

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Big tech companies all over the world have been called out for their lack of efforts when it comes to protecting minors from the harmful content that’s on the internet. David Monahan, campaign manager at Fairplay, a child advocacy group, recently spoke to the media about Google’s newest efforts, and hopes for the future. 

“We’re glad to see Google take this overdue step to give children and teens and their families more control over what images show up in search results. We hope Google will go farther to reverse its collection of sensitive data and give families the ability to erase the digital footprint that Google and its partners maintain on every young person in the US.”

Alexandra Hamlet, a clinical psychologist who works with teenagers, said Google’s request process could also “help parents talk more openly with their kids about managing their online presence. That could include discussing what’s worthy of consideration for removal, such as a photo that could harm their future reputation versus one where they perceive to look less than perfect.”

“While some parents may believe that their teen can handle the removal of various pictures without help, I do suggest that they still have conversations about values and how they tie into image online. They could be missing out on a great opportunity to help their teen to build insight and assertiveness skills,” she explained.