Google Is Getting Sued for Collecting Data From Kids' Educational Chromebooks
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New Mexico’s attorney general is suing Google for allegedly spying on school children through the company’s education-focused Chromebooks. However, the tech giant says the lawsuit gets the facts all wrong.
According to the state’s attorney general, Hector Balderas, Google has been violating a federal privacy law by harvesting the students' information without obtaining parental consent. As a result, he’s demanding it cease the practice and pay a fine.
“Tracking student data without parental consent is not only illegal, it is dangerous; and my office will hold any company accountable who compromises the safety of New Mexican children,” Balderas said in a statement.
His lawsuit specifically cites the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which prohibits companies from collecting the data of children under the age of 13 unless parental consent has been obtained. Balderas claims Google never did this in local school districts across New Mexico, which have been using Chromebooks as an educational tool for students.
It’s no secret Google products do end up harvesting your data as a way to serve up customized content and recommendations, in addition to relevant ads. The business model enables the company to offer free products. But the same tracking has freaked out privacy advocates over how Google is learning intimate details on billions of users by indexing their search histories and website visits.
It’s why Balderas filed today’s lawsuit; he claims Google is collecting “massive quantities of data” from young children for the company’s own commercial benefit.
“My investigation has revealed that Google tracks children across the internet, across devices, in their homes, and well outside the educational sphere, all without obtaining verifiable parental consent,” Balderas wrote in a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai. In the case of Chromebooks for schools, Google will bundle the hardware with G Suite for Education, which comes with Gmail, Google Drive, Google Calendar, in addition to the Chrome browser.
However, the tech giant is dismissing the lawsuit as "factually wrong," a Google spokesperson told PCMag. "G Suite for Education allows schools to control account access and requires that schools obtain parental consent when necessary," she said in an email. "We do not use personal information from users in primary and secondary schools to target ads. School districts can decide how best to use Google for Education in their classrooms and we are committed to partnering with them."
Google has also created a web page devoted to answering privacy questions around Chromebooks used for educational purposes. "We contractually require that schools using G Suite get the parental consent required by COPPA," the site says. "Our services can be used in compliance with COPPA as long as a school has parental consent."
However, Balderas’ lawsuit claims the company never obtained any verifiable parental consent from an online form, a toll-free number, or a video-conference call with parents. “Furthermore, the pop-up notifications that Google displayed to students when first accessing their Google Education accounts are not intended nor available for review by the child’s parent,” the lawsuit adds.