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Certain Instagram face filters will not be available in Texas at this time.
Meta, the parent conglomerate of Instagram and Facebook, quietly disabled augmented reality filters on its platforms across the state on Wednesday. The move comes two months after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the California-based company, claiming that certain company practices and features violated the privacy of Texans. The lawsuit is part of ongoing disputes between Texas officials and social media companies.
Disabled filters are 3D overlays that change a user’s appearance or add accessories such as hats, facial hair, or cartoonish dog ears and muzzles. Other Instagram filters that only change lighting or add tints to photos remain available.
Meta officials said they would add an option for Texans to reactivate their individual accounts in the service later. According to the lawsuit, about 20.5 million Texans used Facebook last year.
In his lawsuit, Paxton said Meta violated a Texas law that prohibits how certain biometric data — physiological characteristics such as fingerprints, eye IDs and, in this case, facial features — is collected. . The attorney general said the lawsuit could result in hundreds of billions of dollars in civil penalties for Meta. The lawsuit also accuses the company of deceptive marketing practices.
Meta officials said it shut down its facial recognition program last year and planned to delete the data of more than a billion users. The decision came after the Federal Trade Commission fined Meta in 2019 a record $5 billion for violating consumer privacy rights.
Paxton alleges the company used data from Facebook and Instagram filters to power its face-tracking software — a claim Meta denies — and asked a state court to ensure the company retains relevant data for the lawsuit, which has not yet been tried.
Meta Press representatives dispute that its facial recognition features have anything to do with its tagging software, but said it suspended filters in Texas and Illinois to “prevent baseless litigation and distracting” that are “based on a misinterpretation of how our features work”. The company pointed out that the Instagram filters it suspended in Texas on Wednesday do not use facial recognition software.
“The technology we use to power augmented reality effects like avatars and filters is not facial recognition or any technology covered by the laws of Texas and Illinois, and is not used to identify who whatever,” Meta said in a statement.
A group of Illinois lawyers were the first to sue Facebook over its collection of biometrics in 2015 in a class action lawsuit. The group struck a deal with the social media giant last month for $650 million. Users who participated in the class action will receive between $200 and $400 after the checks are mailed on May 9.
Paxton filed his lawsuit in Harrison County state court on the first day of early voting in the March primary as he vied for the Republican nomination to keep his job as attorney general. Paxton has been charged since 2015 and is being questioned by the FBI over how he runs his office, but has denied any foul play. He will face Lands Commissioner George P. Bush in a runoff election on May 24.
This isn’t the only area where Texas has targeted social media companies. A recent victory for Republican lawmakers came on Wednesday when a federal appeals court reinstated a Republican-backed Texas law that bars big social media companies from banning users from their political views, a reaction to what Republicans call it an anti-conservative bias.
Conservatives have renewed their criticism of social media companies and targeted them in legislation after former President Donald Trump was banned from Twitter for breaking the platform’s rules on inciting violence during the January 6, 2021 riot at the United States Capitol.
Disclosure: Facebook financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a full list here.
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