Google denies illegally slurping data off free student Chromebooks

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas is suing Google over its alleged slurping of students’ data off of the free it passes out to needy schools and from its free G Suite for Education products, including Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Docs, Sheets, and other apps.

According to the complaint, which was filed in the US District Court for the District of New Mexico on Thursday, Google has marketed its suite – formerly known as Google Education – to schools, parents and children as a “free and purely educational tool”, but in actuality, it comes “at a very real cost that Google purposefully obscures.”

Balderas said in a statement that Google has secretly collected information including students’ geolocation information, internet history, terms that students have searched for on Google, videos they’ve watched on YouTube, personal contact lists, saved passwords, voice recordings, and more, in violation of federal law. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) requires that companies such as Google obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting personal data from children under the age of 13.

The AG is also accusing Google of violating one of the state’s consumer protection laws, the Unfair Practices Act.

Balderas also released a copy of a letter that he sent to Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Wednesday. In that letter, Balderas said that his office had conducted an investigation that concluded that Google’s alleged data siphoning appears to be active and ongoing.

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.

Google has used its access to collect “massive” amounts of data from young children, Balderas said, not to benefit the schools with which Google has contracted, but to profit off it. It’s not just that Google’s sucked it all up into its own gaping maw, the AG said, but that the data can spread “across the globe” in ways both legitimate and otherwise.

He called on Google to immediately cease and desist its alleged data collection, bringing up the specters of having children’s data used to market to them or having it wind up for sale on the dark web, “hosted in countries well beyond the reach of law enforcement.”


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