Given the uncertain state of K-12 education in the foreseeable future parents and school districts are turning to online courses and materials. One of the leading suppliers of cheap laptops has been Google. Are those laptops safe? Is the information and data protected or is it used for economic benefit? In the following article you can read about a lawsuit that may pull back a bit of the curtain and reveal some of the hidden reasons companies like Google are so eager to offer cheap tools…beware?
‘Tracking student data without parental consent is not only illegal, it is dangerous’
Original article: The Verge.com Author: Nick Statt
Google is facing a new lawsuit filed by the state of New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas on Thursday, alleging the company violates the privacy of students who use free Chromebooks provided to schools through the company’s G Suite for Education platform.
“Student safety should be the number one priority of any company providing services to our children, particularly in schools,” said Balderas. “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.”
It’s not Balderas’ first time taking on Google. In 2018, Balderas filed a lawsuit against Google and other companies for violating child privacy laws, specifically the far-reaching COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) provisions. That suit is separate from this new Chromebook-related one and is still ongoing, according to court filings.
The state attorney general is also participating in a broader antitrust probe into Google, conducted by 50 state attorneys general around the country in parallel with similar efforts by the US Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission.
The suit filed today specifically accuses Google of using its free Chromebook program as a kind of Trojan horse to illegally gather data on students, both in violation of COPPA and more generally in violation of broader privacy protections, both federal and state, for kids of all ages.
The data the suit accuses Google of collecting includes sensitive information like physical locations, web and search histories, YouTube viewing habits, contact lists, passwords, and voice recordings, the complaint says. The suit also claims Google used this information to serve its advertising business up until April 2014, and that the company has stored this data in personalized profiles for each student that participates in its G Suite for Education program. It also accuses of Google of not properly disclosing this data collection and not giving parents a way to view and limit the data collection.
“These practices do not simply violate federal law, nor do they merely impact children under the age of 13,” the complaint reads. “Covertly monitoring children of all ages, despite unambiguous representations to the contrary, violates longstanding rights rooted in the common law as well as New Mexico’s statutory prohibitions on unfair, deceptive, and unconscionable business practice.”
Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda rebuked the suit’s claims in a statement provided to The Verge:
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.