February 20, 2020 / 7:44 PM / a month ago

New Mexico AG sues Google for collecting school kids' personal data

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas on Thursday sued Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google search engine, alleging that its educational software collects young students’ personal information without the required parental consent.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Google is seen in Davos, Switzerland Januar 20, 2020. Picture taken January 20, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Google called the allegations “factually wrong” and did not respond to a request to elaborate.

The company sells its Chromebook laptops to schools around the world alongside its free or low-cost G Suite for Education software package, which includes email and writing tools.

Brian McMath, an assistant attorney general under Balderas, said recent testing by his team and outside technical experts found that students aged below 13 who are given Chromebooks by their schools have their Web browsing, location, passwords and other personal information transmitted to Google.

The lawsuit states that Google failed to gather “verifiable parental consent” before collecting the data, a violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

McMath said while there was no evidence that Google had misused the students’ personal information, he was concerned that the company might generate revenue from the data.

Google spokesman Jose Castaneda said “G Suite for Education allows schools to control account access and requires that schools obtain parental consent when necessary.”

The Federal Trade Commission, which oversees the child privacy law, has said that school districts essentially provide the consent when evaluating and purchasing educational software.

But Balderas and about two dozen other state attorneys general last year urged the FTC to reconsider, contending that it gave companies such as Google too much latitude to track children under 13 without their parents’ knowledge.

In 2018, Balderas sued Google and a few other tech companies, accusing them of illegally collecting data from mobile apps made for children. The companies have denied any wrongdoing, and the case awaits a decision by a federal judge.

In September, Google’s YouTube video service was asked to pay the FTC $170 million to settle allegations that it broke federal law by collecting personal information about children.

Social media companies have been facing regulatory scrutiny globally over their policies and data monitoring practices, particularly for children. On Feb. 4, Facebook Inc (FB.O) said it planned to add new tools and features for parental control in its messaging app for users under the age of 13.

Reporting by Amal S in Bengaluru and Paresh Dave in San Francisco; Editing by Shailesh Kuber and Richard Chang

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