New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit against tech giant Google, accusing the company of violating federal and state child privacy laws by collecting massive amounts of personal information from kids through products distributed to their schools.
The complaint says Google has infiltrated over half of the nation’s primary and secondary schools by offering free software and Chromebook laptops, and it alleges the company is illegally using the products to mine personal information of students under 13 — including their physical locations, browsing histories, contact lists, voice recordings and passwords.
In Santa Fe Public Schools, all students in grades 7-12 receive take-home Chromebooks and younger children work with computers in the classroom.
Superintendent Veronica García said the district is aware of the attorney general’s lawsuit.
“The district has not had a data breach of either student or staff personal identifiable information, but our district is constantly reviewing and updating our privacy and student data protocols as well as researching new ways to provide the best digital security for our students,” García said in an emailed statement.
“We will continue to monitor the Attorney General’s lawsuit, and will assist the Attorney General however we can,” she added.
Federal law prohibits companies from collecting personal information from children under 13 without their parents’ consent.
The lawsuit accuses Google of marketing its education software to school districts and teachers without disclosing its intention to gather student data. And while the Google Education software offers an option to stop applications from reading student data, the complaint says, the option is turned off by default and is buried in settings that parents likely never see.
“Google has used this access to collect massive quantities of data from young children not to benefit the school you have contracted with, but to benefit Google’s own commercial interests,” Balderas wrote in a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai. “The data Google has illegally collected can then be spread throughout the globe through both legitimate and illegitimate means.”
The lawsuit claims Google has engaged in deceptive acts that justify up to $5,000 in civil penalties for each violation of the New Mexico Unfair Practices Act.
Balderas said in a news release he alerted schools across New Mexico there is no immediate harm to the continued use of Google products and that the lawsuit should not interrupt daily instruction.
His office filed a similar lawsuit against Google and several other technology companies in September 2018, alleging they were illegally collecting data from mobile apps targeting children, the statement said.
The companies have denied wrongdoing, and the case is awaiting a decision by a federal judge in Albuquerque.