New Mexico Attorney General (AG) Hector Balderas has filed a lawsuit accusing Google of collecting and marketing data of children and student users without the permission of their parents. Balderas claims the actions of the technology company are in direct violation of the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The federal legislation states that companies must obtain parental consent before collecting data from users under the age of 13.
According to the lawsuit, “The consequences of Google’s tracking cannot be overstated: Children are being monitored by one of the largest data mining companies in the world, at school, at home, on mobile devices, without their knowledge and without the permission of their parents.”
Google’s educational products are not only used in New Mexico, but in schools throughout the United States. According to Google, over 20 million teachers and students use Google’s Chromebooks and Classroom and over 70 million use G Suite for Education. The New Mexico lawsuit claims Google is utilizing its educational products to track children’s non-educational activities without their parents’ explicit consent. Essentially, the claim is that Google utilizes the Chromebooks to create one merged profile tracking both students’ school activities and personal web activities.
According to The New York Times, Jose Castaneda, a Google spokesman, disputed the lawsuit’s claims, “G Suite for Education allows schools to control account access and requires that schools obtain parental consent when necessary,” he said in a statement. “We do not use personal information from users in primary and secondary schools to target ads.”
This is not the first time Google has come under fire for collecting youth data without parental consent. To ease public concern about their data mining practices, in 2015, Google signed a voluntary pledge claiming it would not use student data collected from its educational products, nor would it keep student’s personal information without parental consent.
This is also not the first time Balderas has gone after Google. In 2018, the AG named Google in a lawsuit that claimed a children’s app maker, along with Google and Twitter, violated children’s privacy. Balderas is also one of several attorneys general who has signed on to an anti-trust investigation of the technology giant.
Though New Mexico’s lawsuit has been filed federally, the United States has no federal regulations regarding data mining and privacy. This leaves much of the policing and regulation of the big technology companies to individual states. Many states have urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to further regulate technology companies, especially when it comes to the personal information of consumers and children.
Today on Facebook, AG Balderas posted, “We will continue to partner with the best technology companies in the world, yet safety and consumer protection must continue to improve for all families.”