Tech giant alleged to have shared private student data
(Miss.) Google Inc. allegedly collected students’ personal information and search history to help advertisers target children, according to a lawsuit filed by the state of Mississippi.
The suit claims Google used its apps marketed as being safe for teacher and student use–including Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Docs–for third party use, and then falsely assured families that student data was being kept private.
“It is disturbing to think that one of the world’s most profitable corporations would try to make even more money by deceiving parents and taking advantage of Mississippi school children,” Attorney General Jim Hood said in a statement. “Through this lawsuit, we want to know the extent of Google’s data mining and marketing of student information to third parties.”
Nearly every state has made some effort in recent years to bolster student data privacy protections by adopting comprehensive and thorough approaches toward handling security breaches, collection and handling of data, and limiting who is able to access data.
According to the nonprofit Data Quality Campaign, at least 386 bills were introduced throughout the country targeting issues of transparency, security and privacy between 2014 and 2016. Many sought to protect state and federal assessment of data, as well as third-party service providers’ information security and data sharing activities.
In 2015, scores of companies that collect student information or provide technology used for educational purposes signed the K-12 School Service Provider Pledge to Safeguard Student Privacy–including Google–in which they promised not to collect, maintain, use or share student personal information beyond what is needed for educational purposes. Additionally, companies agreed to disclose what information is collected and for what purposes to parents in an easy-to-understand manner.
The lawsuit filed by Hood this month claims that Google has failed to live up to its pledge. The suit alleges that the company builds profiles from student information which are used to target advertising, without properly disclosing the types of information it collects. The attorney general’s office has noted that the extent to which Google has allegedly shared information with third party vendors is unknown.
Hood has requested a judge to order Google to stop the practice of showing ads to students based on their previous searches. The attorney general also sent a letter to local school superintendents asking that they preserve any evidence that may help with the lawsuit.
According to the suit, more than half of the state’s approximately 1,000 schools currently use products offered through the Google Apps for Education suite. Google could be fined up to $10,000 for each of its student accounts in Mississippi, which could amount to nearly $1 billion, according to the suit.
“Through a child’s [G Suite for Education] account, Google tracks, records, uses, and saves the online activity of Mississippi’s children, all for the purpose of processing student data to build a profile, which in turn aids its advertising business,” Hood wrote in the lawsuit. “These deceptive practices allow Google to gain an unfair advantage over its competitors and to deceive the Mississippi public in violation of Mississippi law.”