If you’ve tried to post to your Instagram story or feed and noticed it no longer has all the usual filters, it’s not a glitch: Your Instagram filters really did disappear overnight.
Filters are typically used on the social networking app to add fun elements to photos and videos that users post. But Instagram took down a number of filters for users in Texas and Illinois following lawsuits related to facial recognition technology.
Facial recognition technology has become increasingly controversial in recent years, with debate over potential misuse by government agencies, companies and law enforcement. A number of cities and states have banned or limited the use of the technology.
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Meta Platforms, the parent company of Instagram, Facebook, Whatsapp and Meta Quest, confirmed it has turned off access to certain augmented reality effects and applications, but continued to maintain that it does not use facial recognition technology.
“The technology we use to power augmented reality effects like avatars and filters is not facial recognition or any technology covered by Texas and Illinois laws, and is not used to identify anyone,” Meta said in a written statement. “Nevertheless, we are taking this step to prevent meritless and distracting litigation under laws in these two states based on a mischaracterization of how our features work. We remain committed to delivering AR experiences that people love, and that a diverse roster of creators use to grow their businesses, without needless friction or confusion. ”
On social media, filters are preset edited effects that can be applied to images or videos. These can range from a simple overlay that turns a photo black and white to more interactive elements such as dog ears or flower crowns.
Filters can use augmented reality – commonly known as AR – which allow users to interact with virtual elements in a real-world environment. The AR filters generate effects that are then superimposed on a user’s face, or on other real-world objects. In Instagram’s case, users can click on different AR filters to add virtual makeup, tattoos, sunglasses, different hair color on a user’s face, or even an animal sitting on a user’s head.
The filters might not be gone forever for users in Texas. Meta said it is working on a new opt-in feature that would explain how AR effect placement works and could allow the services to return to Texas and Illinois. The company did not provide an exact timeline for those features but said it would be “closer to weeks than months.”
Texas users who travel out of the state will also be able to access the filters once they cross into another state.
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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a privacy lawsuit this year against Meta alleging the company was collecting facial recognition data without clear consent from users, in violation of a state consumer protection law.
In 2009, Texas passed the Capture or Use of Biometric Identifier Act, which forbids the unauthorized collection and use of biometric data and facial recognition technology. Paxton cited that law and the Deceptive Trade Practices Act, which protects consumers from false, deceiving or misleading business practices, in the suit.
Paxton alleged the company had collected “face geometries” through photos and video and sent the information to others for profit, without the informed consent of users. Meta denied the claims.
Meta announced last year that it would shut down its decade-old facial recognition system last year, a feature that had led to privacy concerns, a lawsuit and government investigations. Most Facebook users would recognize the feature as part of “tagging” someone on Facebook. At the time, the company said people who had opted in would no longer be automatically recognized in photos and videos and the company would delete more than 1 billion people’s facial recognition templates.
“We need to weigh the positive use cases for facial recognition against growing societal concerns, especially as regulators have yet to provide clear rules,” the company said in a written statement at the time.
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Last year, Illinois settled a lawsuit similar to the one filed in Texas. More than 1 million Facebook users in Illinois could receive checks for between $ 200 and $ 400 as part of a settlement, following a class-action lawsuit that alleged Facebook broke Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act, which was passed in 2008. The law requires companies to obtain consent before collecting biometric information and requires companies to specify how the information will be stored and when it will be destroyed.
Meta has a significant presence in Central Texas, with more than 2,000 employees in Austin and several offices. It also is building an $ 800 million data center in Temple, expected to employ 100 people, that is scheduled to be operational in 2024.