Meta, the company behind Facebook and Instagram, claims that augmented reality (AR) filters and avatars used on the two platforms don’t qualify for facial surveillance – and yet it has decided to turn this feature off in Texas and Illinois, to comply with privacy legislation related to facial recognition in these states.
Other platforms affected by the decision are Messenger, Messenger Kids, and Portal.
The reason given is that the tech giant wants to avoid what it calls “meritless and distracting litigation.” However, despite having very deep pockets and therefore ostensibly being able to sustain lengthy and costly, if “meritless and distracting” litigation – it doesn’t seem that Meta thinks it could come out victorious in courts in the two states if it actually challenged the laws.
One reason could be that Illinois is taking its legislation designed to protect people’s online privacy seriously: last year, Facebook was ordered to pay $650 million in a class-action lawsuit.
And Texas is also asserting itself in this area of user protection, launching lawsuits that allege citizens have not properly consented for Facebook (Meta) to use their biometric information for facial recognition tools.
Meta now describes the measure to suspend AR features as temporary. What this means is that Meta is hard at work trying to bypass the privacy laws via something referred to as “an opt-in experience” that the corporation hopes will allow the AR features to make a comeback in Texas and Illinois.
Even though the AR is being turned off, a statement from the company curiously insists that the tech used for filters and avatars is not facial recognition – and is not used to identify users.
Last year, the facial recognition system called “Face” was shut down by Meta, when the company was forced to delete a database of face scans harvested from over a billion users.
Facebook announced at the time that the company was guided by the desire to assuage societal concerns and what it said was “regulatory uncertainty.”
But now that there is a good deal of “regulatory certainty” – in states such as Texas and Illinois – Meta continues to shutter features while hoping to bring them back in a different form.