Does Google over ‘indiscriminate’ collection of facial recognition data?

27th October, 2022.      //   Technology  // 

Google sued over biometric data collection without consentThe search engine has also recently received a $160m (£140m) fine from India’s anti-trust watchdog for abusing its position in the local smartphone market.

The state of Texas has filed a lawsuit against technology giant Google for the company’s collection and use of biometric data, which it says goes against the state’s Capture or Use of Biometric Identifier Act.

The lawsuit claims Google “indiscriminately” harvested “millions of biometric identifiers” from users and non-users of the company’s products without their consent, and profited from them. 

The state claims the data was used to improve the facial recognition technology leveraged by Google Photos and the voice recognition technology used in its line of smart speakers and other home products.

“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,” the complaint said. “Indeed, all across the state, everyday Texans have become unwitting cash cows being milked by Google for profits.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton stressed Google’s collection of personal information “will not be tolerated.” In the past, Paxton has taken aim at several tech firms in a slew of lawsuits, including a similar complaint against Facebook-parent Meta in February 2022.

Google has rejected the accusation and said it will “set the record straight” in court.

“AG Paxton is once again mischaracterising our products in another breathless lawsuit,” said Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda, stressing that the features mentioned in the lawsuit – Google Photos, Voice Match and Face Match – are only visible to users and can be turned off. 

In addition to the legal battle in Texas, Google has also been attacked by the Competition Commission of India (CCI), after a probe found proof of anti-competitive behaviour on the part of the technology giant. 

Google was fined $160m (£140m) as a result. 

“Markets should be allowed to compete on merits and the onus is on (Google) that its conduct does not impinge this competition on merits,” the CCI said. 

Google’s Android mobile operating system is run on 95 per cent of India’s smartphones, according to research agency Counterpoint. However, the CCI found the system had a suite of Google apps pre-installed on its phones, including Chrome, “which accorded significant competitive edge to Google’s search services over its competitors”. 

In addition to the fine, the CCI instructed the company to allow Android users to remove pre-installed Google apps and told Google not to enter into any agreement with smartphone makers that would encourage them to only sell Android-based devices or exclusively use its software.

Google faced a similar anti-trust ruling in the European Union, which found the company had imposed “unlawful restrictions” on smartphone makers to benefit its search engine.

Last month, one of the European Union’s highest courts largely upheld a huge fine issued to Google by the bloc’s anti-competition watchdog in 2018 over a similar issue regarding the tech giant’s Android mobile operating system.

The fine is one of three anti-competition penalties totalling more than €8bn (£6.9bn) that the European Commission imposed on Google between 2017 and 2019.

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