Google Accused of Illegally Mining the Data of Mississippi Public Schools Students

The state attorney general filed a lawsuit accusing the company of violating the Mississippi Consumer Protection Act.

by Justin Vicory, The Sun Herald / January 18, 2017

(TNS) — State Attorney General Jim Hood’s office filed a lawsuit Friday accusing Google of illegally mining the data of Mississippi public-school students.

On Tuesday, Hood accused Google Inc. of collecting personal and search-history information from students in order “to advance its own business interests and increase its profit.” He said Google violated the Mississippi Consumer Protection Act.

He said students who have accounts with Google’s “G Suite For Education” may have been affected. The web-based tools were previously known as Google Apps for Education. They were marketed as a free, safe way for students and teachers to seamlessly collaborate and communicate across multiple internet-connected devices. The software tools include Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive and Google Docs.

In 2015, Hood said Google signed a privacy pledge for K-12 users, which promised to not collect, maintain, use or share students’ personal information beyond educational or school purposes. The pledge also promised to “disclose clearly in contracts or privacy policies, including in a manner easy for parents to understand, what types of student personal information we collect, if any, and the purposes for which the information we maintain is used or shared with third parties,” Hood said.

The lawsuit, filed in Lowndes County Chancery Court, accuses Google of failing to live up to its pledge and says the company didn’t disclose the type of information it collects, maintains and uses, nor how the information is shared with third parties.

Hood said his office did tests that confirmed users’ information was being mined. Hood, who said his own son was affected, said Google may have been building long-term profiles on the students or selling the information to advertisers.

He admitted it’s impossible to know exactly what student information Google is collecting or how Google is using it, although he said in a conference call he hoped to learn more through the discovery process.

“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,” he said. “Through this lawsuit, we want to know the extent of Google’s data mining and marketing of student information to third parties.

“I don’t think there could be any motivation other than greed for a company to deliberately keep secret how it collects and uses student information.”

Hood said it is believed more than half of Mississippi schools use Google products. The lawsuit does not seek compensation on behalf of any schools or students.

He said he encourages school administrators to thoroughly research any technology services students may be using, and he said it would be up to schools to decide if they still want to use G Suite For Education.

“I have a duty to protect the rights and interests of all Mississippians,” he said in a letter to school superintendents.

©2017 The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.