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Google sued by New Mexico attorney general for collecting children's data without proper consent

Google sued by New Mexico attorney general for collecting children's data without proper consent
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New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas (D) is suing Google over allegations that the tech giant is collecting reams of personal information about children without proper parental consent, violating a slew of federal and state laws and exploiting local school systems in the process.

After conducting an expansive investigation, Balderas says his office found Google is profiting off of sensitive information about children as New Mexico schools use Google's free classroom software and computers.

"My investigation 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 wrote in a public letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Thursday. 

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Under-resourced school districts in New Mexico, and across the U.S. more broadly, use Google's free educational tools under the premise that Google will not violate children's privacy. But according to Balderas, Google has been siphoning off children's data, including their physical location and their personal contact lists, as the company's educational tools become more prevalent in the classroom. More than 80 million teachers and students in the U.S. use Google's free educational products. 

"Because 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, I am forced to bring legal action to prohibit this dangerous conduct," Balderas wrote.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, is seeking penalties as well as an end to the business practices to which Balderas is pointing.

Google in a statement called the lawsuit's claims "factually wrong."

"G Suite for Education allows schools to control account access and requires that schools obtain parental consent when necessary," Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda said in a statement. "We do not use personal information from users in primary and secondary schools to target ads."

Balderas is also participating in the broader antitrust investigation launched last year by nearly every state attorney general in the country. That separate probe is looking into whether Google has abused its dominant market position to exploit users and elbow out smaller rivals. 

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The New Mexico Attorney General also filed a lawsuit against Google and other firms for violating children's privacy laws in 2018, a case that is ongoing.

The lawsuit filed Thursday alleges that Google is spying on children through Google's Chromebook and its software, G Suite for Education. Balderas is claiming that Google is collecting data on children for commercial purposes in violation of the country's online children's privacy law, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. 

"School districts can decide how best to use Google for Education in their classrooms and we are committed to partnering with them," Google's Castaneda said. 

Balderas said he has reached out to school districts across New Mexico to assure them that there is not an imminent threat and that they should continue using the vital Google products. 

Google last year faced allegations that it was collecting children's personal information without proper consent — resulting in a record-shattering $170 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission. 

"Student safety should be the number one priority of any company providing services to our children, particularly in schools,” Balderas said in a statement. “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.”

Updated 3:57 P.M.