Where Did Facebook and Instagram Filters Go? Why You May Not Be Able to Access Them

Meta decided to remove certain AR filters due to privacy and facial recognition laws in both Illinois and Texas

NBC Universal, Inc.

Having trouble accessing augmented reality effects, like filters and avatars, on Instagram and Facebook? There's a reason for that, at least if you're in Illinois and Texas.

Meta, the parent company of both social networks, turned off some augmented reality features on Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, Messenger Kids and Portal due to laws regarding privacy and facial recognition in both states.

While Meta argues its AR filters aren't considered facial recognition under laws in either state, the company opted to remove the certain features.

"...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," Meta said in a statement, in part. "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.”  

So, why are just Illinois and Texas included?

An unusual law, passed in 2008 in Illinois, says companies are not allowed to collect, store, or give out "biometric data," which includes things like face or fingerprint scans, without first giving notice and obtaining personal consent. A lawsuit was filed against Facebook in 2015, alleging the company broke that law, the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, by collecting and storing biometric data -- physical characteristics -- of users without their consent through features including facial recognition technology.

The three firms fronting the lawsuits said the social network never told users that its photo tagging system used facial recognition technology to analyze photos and create and store “face templates."

Facebook agreed to pay $650 million to end the litigation, with the money to be split among Illinois Facebook users who filed claims by a certain deadline, minus costs and $97.5 million in attorneys’ fees. Direct deposits and checks in the amount of $397 began to hit bank accounts this week as part of the payout.

Facebook changed its technology in 2019, replacing the tool with a broader facial recognition setting, which was turned off by default. The website announced it would shut down its recognition software entirely in 2021.

Facebook denies it violated any law.

Illinois has generally been regarded as among the most aggressive places in the world in terms of regulations on tech. Other states, including Texas and Washington, have biometric privacy laws, but none allow consumers to file lawsuits — what’s known as a private right of action. That leaves enforcement up to government lawyers, as when the Texas attorney general sued Facebook this year over facial recognition software. 

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