The New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas is suing Google over alleged stealing and selling of students’ personal data. Google handed out free chromebooks to a large amount of New Mexican schools in need while also providing free G Suite services to others. The free G Suite services include Gmail, Google Docs, Google Slides, Sheets, etc. Google offers these services across New Mexico school counties at no cost, but in actuality these services come “at a very real cost that Google purposefully obscures,” according to Balderas.
In a press release Balderas revealed that Google has discreetly collected tons of student information and data. Information including student geolocation information, internet history, terms searched by students on Google, videos watched on YouTube, personal contact lists, saved passwords, voice recordings, and more. The collection of this data without explicit parental consent would make Google in direct violation of The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). COPPA prevents any company from collecting data on minors (anybody under the age of 13) without explicit consent and issues incredibly hefty fines for any company caught breaking any of these rules.
According to the Attorney General’s lawsuit, more than 80 million educators and students throughout the US currently use Google Suites or chromebooks, and 25 out of those 80 million use either products constantly in school. The lawsuit also states that Google publicly pledged to never use students data for their own commercial purposes, but then points to multiple discrepancies on Google’s end. For example the lawsuit points to a statement made by Google in response to a congressional inquiry, in which Google admits to using students’ data for “product improvement and product development.”
So is Google purposely giving away products to schools to collect and sell their data or are they genuinely trying to improve American education experiences? Well they responded to the New Mexican Attorney General’s claims.
In a statement to The Verge, Google Spokesperson Jose Castaneda denied Balderas’ claims. Castaneda said, “These claims are factually wrong. G Suite for Education allows schools to control account access and requires that schools obtain parental consent when necessary. We do not use personal information from users in primary and secondary schools to target ads.” But they admitted to using students’ data for “product improvement and product development.”
Google has had their fair share of lawsuits against them the past couple years when it comes to consumer and users’ privacy, but if they were found violating COPPA, it would be the second time in the past two years. In 2019, Google and Youtube had to pay the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) $170 million. If Google is found violating COPPA again do not be surprised if the consequences and fines are as tough if not more.