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Lawsuits & Litigation

New Mexico Sues Google for Harvesting Kids Internet-use Data

— February 21, 2020

New Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office says that Google harvests data ranging from kids’ web-use habits to their physical locations and voice recordings.

New Mexico is suing Google, claiming the company used its educational products to spy on children and families across the state.

According to The New York Times, the lawsuit was filed Thursday by New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas. In his complaint, Balderas accused Google of collecting and hoarding underaged students’ personal information, which included their browsing preferences and frequently-visited websites.

More troubling, though, was Google’s cache of highly individualized, potentially dangerous data: alongside storing simple cookies, Google also tracked kids’ physical whereabouts and accessed their voice recordings.

“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,” the lawsuit states.

The New York Times notes that, over the past eight years, Google has heavily invested in its suite of inexpensive educational tools. About half of all public schools in the United States today use free Google Education apps, including Gmail and Google Docs. Others avail paid services or commercial products, like the Google Chromebook and its cloud storage.

All in all, close to 100 million students and teachers across the world use Google products daily.

A 2011 image of Hector Balderas, then running for a New Mexico senate seat. Image via Flickr/user:Steve Terrell. (CCA-BY-2.0).

But the company’s privacy policies have long garnered scrutiny. Last September, Google was sued by the New York Attorney General’s office for illegally harvesting the personal data of young YouTube users.

Google agreed to pay a $170 million fine—a massive amount by any measure, save, perhaps, for Google’s profit margins. Just last year, Alphabet and Google Inc. reported revenue of $162 billion.

But Google hasn’t admitted any wrongdoing in the New Mexico suit. Jose Castaneda, a Google spokesperson, told the New York Times that whatever claims Balderas made in his filing are “factually wrong.”

“G Suite for Education allows schools to control account access and requires that schools obtain parental consent when necessary,’ Castaneda said. “We do not use personal information from users in primary and secondary schools to target ads.”

However, Brian McMath, New Mexico’s assistant attorney general, said his technical team found evidence Google neglects its own privacy measures. Students aged 13 and under who were given Chromebooks, for instance, still had personal information transmitted to Google despite an absence of “verifiable parental consent.”

That potential oversight, McMath says, violates the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

The Times adds that this lawsuit isn’t the first New Mexico has fought against Google. In 2018, Balderas filed another complaint against the company, accusing it of violating privacy laws alongside Twitter and an app creator.


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