New Mexico Attorney General sues Google for spying on school kids

Anton P. | March 10, 2020

Google is yet to face a new lawsuit ordered by the state of New Mexico. The Attorney General Hector Balderas claims that the company invades the privacy of students who use the G Suite Education platform on Chromebooks. However, the tech giant calls the lawsuit “factually wrong” and disputes the allegation.

Both illegal and dangerous

Google, the top tech brand in schools, used its educational products to snoop on New Mexico’s children and families, the lawsuit cites. Company allegedly collected students’ details through Education-dedicated apps - Gmail, Calendar, and Google Docs. Tracked information contains students’ voice recordings, contact lists, physical locations, websites they visited, and the Youtube videos they viewed.

“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 states. “Google has used this access to collect massive quantities of data from young children not to benefit the schools you have contracted with, but to benefit Google’s own commercial interests.”

When students log into their Chromebooks, Google enables a feature that syncs its Chrome browser with other devices used by that account. The sync quickly blends a children’s school and personal accounts. Together with all web activities into one single profile that Google can view. Also, Chrome leaves the setting, which allows full access to synced data, disabled by default.

According to a local news report, Google’s Chromebooks, along with its G Suite tools, are offered in almost 60% of school districts in New Mexico. Google provides its educational products for little to completely no cost. Due to this fact, Hector Balderas believes that there’s a hidden price - children’s data which is aggregated without their or parental knowledge.

Breaching the COPPA

The lawsuit explicitly points out to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPAA). The COPAA is one of the only federal laws controlling digital data privacy. It forbids companies collecting the data of children that are under the age of 13 unless it obtains parental consent. Balderas cites that Google never complied with the legislation in local schools allocated across New Mexico. Instead, it betrayed schools and parents by granting them that there were no concerns in regards to privacy violation. When, in fact, the company collected a trove of sensitive information.

Claims to be ‘factually wrong’

The world’s biggest tech giant dismisses the lawsuit by claiming it “factually wrong.” Jose Castaneda, a spokesman for Google, claims their program “allows schools to control account access and requires that schools obtain parental consent when necessary.” According to his public statement, Google is not using personal information from users in primary and secondary schools. The company also created a dedicated web page that covers privacy concerns and questions about G tools for Education.

This is not the first time when Google faces allegations of a privacy breach. In September 2019, the company agreed to pay a $170 million fine to settle another data harvesting case. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charged Google with violating children’s privacy, as well as, COPPA, on its subsidiary Youtube. The FTC and the New York attorney general accused Youtube of gathering children’s personal information with the so-called personal identifiers - “cookies”. According to the lawsuit, Youtube gained millions of dollars by using collected data to deliver tailored ads to the kids.

Bottom line

Holding children away from the threats of the Internet might seem like battling a losing fight. However, there is a way to fend off those prying Google eyes. Communicating and educating the children is essential, but taking extra precautions is equally vital. Getting a VPN for your devices will provide you increased peace of mind. VPN forwards internet traffic via an encrypted tunnel, leaving it private and secure from any third-parties. Check for more advantages Atlas VPN can bring you here.

Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.



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