New Mexico AG sues Google over alleged child privacy violations (updated)

Hector Balderas claims Google is violating COPPA by collecting students' Chromebook data.

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Google is being sued by New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas. In a lawsuit filed Thursday, Balderas alleges that Google is violating COPPA (Children's Online Privacy Protection Act) and New Mexico's Unfair Practices Act by collecting data on students who use Chromebooks through the G Suite for Education platform.

According to Balderas, Google gathers location data, browsing and search histories, contacts, voice recordings, passwords and more, from children of all ages, without giving parents the ability to limit or review the data collection. The lawsuit also claims that until 2014, Google fed this data to its advertising business and that Google monitors teachers in a similar manner. Google has not yet responded to a request for comment.

While Google collects this type of data on many of its users, violating child privacy laws, at the state or federal level, could be a serious offense. Outside of the Google Education program, the lawsuit points out, Google forbids anyone in the US under the age of 13 from having their own Google account. The Google Education program provides a kind of loophole, but it must abide by the same laws.

"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 press release.

Google says these claims are "factually wrong."

"G Suite for Education allows schools to control account access and requires that schools obtain parental consent when necessary," a company spokesperson told Engadget. "We do not use personal information from users in primary and secondary schools to target ads."

This isn't the first time Balderas has sued Google over alleged child privacy violations. In 2018, he accused Google and other companies of violating COPPA. That lawsuit, which is ongoing, is separate from the one filed Thursday. Balderas is also part of a larger antitrust probe into Google, and he has asked other companies, like BitTorrent, what they do to prevent child exploitation.

Update 4:09PM ET: A Google spokesperson provided the following statement to Engadget. We have updated this post accordingly.

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. School districts can decide how best to use Google for Education in their classrooms and we are committed to partnering with them.

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