(CN) – New Mexico’s attorney general sued Google in federal court Thursday, claiming the tech giant is illegally collecting the personal information of children under the age of 13 through the company’s Google Education service that has been adopted by schools across the country.
The web-based service, more formally known as G Suite for Education, lets teachers and students access versions of the company’s popular email, calendar and document-sharing software specially tailored for classrooms.
Google has promoted the service as a path toward the “future of the classroom,” but New Mexico alleges the product has given the company “sole and exclusive access” to the digital lives and personal data of millions of students across the U.S.
“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,” the state’s attorney general Hector Balderas said in a statement.
The lawsuit accuses Google of lying about promises to only collect students’ education-related data from the platform and to not use that data to turn a profit. The company’s privacy guidelines for the service say it complies with rigorous standards, including the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998.
But New Mexico says Google has brazenly violated that law and that the tech giant has “deliberately deceived” parents and teachers about its privacy commitments.
The 24-page lawsuit claims the company has used Google Education to collect troves of personal information from kids and their families, ranging from the websites users of the service visited to their physical locations, passwords, personal contact lists and even voice recordings.
“While Google publicly positions Google Education as a benign tool that is an answer to resource-deprived schools nationwide, it secretly uses Google Education as a means to monitor children while they browse the internet, including in their private homes, on their private computers and phones, and on their private networks,” the complaint states.
Google flatly denied the allegations.
“These claims are factually wrong,” spokesperson Jose Castaneda said in a statement. “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.”
The New Mexico lawsuit is not the first time the company has come under scrutiny for its role in the classroom and its handling of children’s data.
In a still-pending case from 2018, New Mexico sued Google, Twitter and other tech giants on similar claims that the companies were illegally tracking children’s online activity.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group focused on civil liberties in the digital world, filed a complaint against Google with the Federal Trade Commission over similar privacy concerns in 2015. The complaint came amid the organization’s research for a report entitled “Spying on Students,” which raised broad concerns about tech companies collecting data from students.
In a notable case from 2019, Google and YouTube agreed to pay a record $170 million to settle claims from the Federal Trade Commission and New York’s attorney general that the companies were illegally collecting children’s personal information without parental consent.
In the lawsuit filed Thursday, New Mexico accuses Google of misleading schools and teachers in its marketing materials about the service, saying in part that the materials don’t properly disclose that the service monitors students’ web browsing activities.
The state is seeking damages in the case and has asked a judge to find the company’s practices with Google Education illegal under federal and state laws. The lawsuit also seeks to block the company from using unfair or deceptive trade practices in promoting the tech service.
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