Much-like Facebook, Google is having a tough time in the court system due to their fast and loose policies concerning data.
Texas has filed a lawsuit against Google over allegations that it illegally collects the biometric data of millions of people in the state using products such as Google Photos, Google Assistant, and Nest Hub Max.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced the lawsuit, which claims Google is violating a 2009 Texas biometric law that requires companies to receive advanced, informed consent before collecting biometric data, including fingerprints, voices, and records of people’s “face geometry.”
The complaint alleges that Google has been violating this law since 2015 when it introduced the Google Photos Face Grouping feature, which identifies facial features to recognize a face within a photo and group any pictures or videos that include that person (or pet). The suit says Google has been collecting biometric data from “innumerable” Texans to serve the company’s commercial ends. “Indeed, all across the state, everyday Texans have become unwitting cash cows being milked by Google for profits.”
“Many Texans do not know or understand that Google powers Google Photos by recording and analyzing sensitive biometric information. But, even more striking is the fact that, through the Face Grouping process, Google captures and stores sensitive biometric data about Texan users and non-users alike—and Google stores that data for an unreasonable amount of time,” the lawsuit states.
“Even more troubling, when the mother uploads video of the birthday party, Google runs facial recognition on every face detected in that video, including the faces of uninvolved bystanders in the park, restaurant, or schoolyard.”
Another example of Google’s alleged illegal biometric collecting is the Nest Hub Max feature Face Match. It uses facial recognition tech to identify who is using the device and show content based on a specific person’s preferences. According to the suit, “The Nest Hub Max’s camera is designed to be a modern Eye of Sauron—constantly watching and waiting to identify a face it knows.” As with Face Grouping, it’s claimed that the facial geometry of anyone who comes into view, including children, is captured without their consent.
The voice aspect is related to any device that uses Google Assistant. The suit says that these devices listen to and analyze every voice they hear, regardless of whether a speaker has consented to Google’s voice printing.
Google responded to the lawsuit in an email to PCMag. “AG Paxton is once again mischaracterizing our 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,” a company spokesperson said.
“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,” they added.
This isn’t the first time Google has faced a lawsuit relating to claims that it illegally collects biometric data. Earlier this year, the company reached a $100 million settlement with the state of Illinois over the Google Photos Face Grouping feature.