Courts

Meta Plans to Delete Facial Recognition Data, a Move Ken Paxton's Fighting

CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been the hot seat in recent weeks over privacy concerns following new revelations from a Texas-led lawsuit.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been the hot seat in recent weeks over privacy concerns following new revelations from a Texas-led lawsuit. Anthony Quintano from Honolulu, HI, United States Wikimedia Commons
Mark Zuckerberg’s had a busy few weeks. In response to a lawsuit, his company Meta (formerly Facebook) plans to delete facial recognition data, a move Texas officials are fighting.

On Oct. 20, the attorney general for the District of Columbia added Zuckerberg as a defendant in a 2018 lawsuit that claims the company routinely violates users’ privacy by granting third parties access to their data.

A few days later, documents in a Texas-led lawsuit against Google were unsealed, shedding more light on the 2018 quid-pro-quo deal executives at Facebook, which recently changed its name to Meta, made with Google to gain favorable treatment in Google’s online ad auctions.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and several Democrat colleagues called "Jedi Blue" “a secret deal with deeply troubling antitrust implications” in a September letter to the U.S. attorney general (when Jedi Blue was first made public outside court proceedings.)

After 12 days, during which Zuckerberg announced his plan to build a simulated world called the metaverse, Meta made a big announcement.

“In the coming weeks, Meta will shut down the Face Recognition system on Facebook as part of a company-wide move to limit the use of facial recognition in our products,” Jerome Pesenti, Facebook’s VP of Artificial Intelligence, wrote in blog post Monday night.

Pesenti said in the post that more than a billion people who had “opted in to our Face Recognition setting” would not be recognized in photos posted on the Facebook platform moving forward.

More than 1 billion people’s facial recognition data will be deleted from the platform, according to Pesenti’s post. "This change will represent one of the largest shifts in facial recognition usage in the technology’s history."

"This change will represent one of the largest shifts in facial recognition usage in the technology’s history." – Jerome Pesenti, Meta (Facebook)

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Meanwhile, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's office has demanded that Meta not delete the facial recognition data while the state continues to investigate the social media giant.

"It has come to our attention that your client, Facebook, Inc. (now known as Meta), will soon be shutting down its Face Recognition system on Facebook," says the letter.

"Until this matter is fully and finally resolved, your client should preserve and take appropriate safeguards to secure and protect all documents related to our investigation, including but not limited to all facial recognition templates of Facebook's Texas users and all source code related to Facebook's Face Recognition systems," the letter adds.

Meta's announcement was “without a doubt” an attempt to offset Meta’s public relations headache after the lawsuit was unsealed, said John Watson, a journalism professor at American University specializing in media law and ethics.

Facebook’s facial recognition system has been plagued by controversy and legal battles since its launch in 2010. The Federal Trade Commission slapped the social media network with a record-setting $5 billion fine in 2019 for its mismanagement of its users’ personal information. The FTC listed facial recognition among its top user privacy concerns.

The company is paying down a $650 million settlement from a 2019 lawsuit alleging it collected facial recognition data from millions of users without their permission.

Though Texas’ suit focuses on monopoly-like business practices, court documents highlight how Facebook’s trove of personal data on its 2.9 billion users made it a unique threat in Google’s eyes.

“Like Google, Facebook brought millions of advertisers on board to reach the users on its social network,” according to court documents.

What made Google executives fear Facebook’s advertising power? It’s “deep knowledge of its users”, which enables it to target ads to specific users with unprecedented speed and precision, court records said.
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Michael Murney is a staff writer at the Dallas Observer and a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. His reporting has appeared in Chicago’s South Side Weekly and the Chicago Reader.
Contact: Michael Murney

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