New Mexico Lawsuit Highlights Google's Deep Involvement With Student Data
The state claims that Chromebooks and G Suite software grab search data, voice recordings, and more
New Mexico's attorney general filed a lawsuit this week claiming that Google uses its education products and services to illegally collect data from children. The case highlights how the tech company has become deeply embedded in schools across the country, raising privacy concerns among child and privacy advocates.
Katie McInnis, policy counsel for Consumer Reports, says the case demonstrates the need for school officials to look more closely at issues of student privacy.
“If the claims prove to be true, Google has been collecting highly sensitive information about children, including voice recordings, in violation of COPPA," she says. "Hopefully this example will make schools nationwide more fully examine the tech products and companies they invite into the classroom and children’s everyday lives."
Google's Footprint in Schools
Google's products are widely used in public and private schools throughout the U.S. The New Mexico lawsuit reports that 80 million students and educators across the U.S. use G Suite for Education, and 25 million students use Chromebook laptops.
There are legitimate reasons why school districts use the company's products and services. Chromebooks are relatively inexpensive, and the company's software provides technology support that most school districts would be unable to execute, especially in an era of shrinking budgets.
But privacy advocates say they're concerned about the lack of a firm separation between Google's education products and its regular offerings. And they say the company isn't transparent enough when describing how it uses student data.
"YouTube is used by teachers all over the country all the time, and it doesn't seem to have the same protection for school accounts that, say, Gmail does," says Josh Golin, executive director of the advocacy group Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. "Tens of millions of schoolchildren are using Google products in school but no one really understands what's going on with that data, and that's both a problem and a violation of the law."
According to published reports, the Norwegian Data Protection Authority is investigating the use of Google services in Norwegian schools, evaluating potential violations of Europe's GDPR data protection law. Last July, Germany banned schools from using cloud-based productivity software from Microsoft, Google, and Apple because of privacy concerns.
Last September, Google paid a $170 million fine in a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over charges that YouTube, which is owned by Google, was collecting data about children without parental consent and using that personal information to target ads to them.