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Federal Judge Dismisses New Mexico’s Lawsuit Against Google

In the February lawsuit, the state of New Mexico alleged Google was using free Chromebook computers to scoop up federally protected personal data, but it has now been dismissed by a federal judge.

by Algernon D'Ammassa, Las Cruses Sun-News / September 29, 2020
Google headquarters on January 24, 2016, in Mountain View, Calif. (Kristoffer Tripplaar/Sipa USA/TNS) TNS

(TNS) — A February lawsuit in which the state of New Mexico alleged Google was using free Chromebook computers to scoop up federally protected personal data has been dismissed by a federal judge.

Attorney General Hector Balderas accused the company of violating federal law by tracking New Mexico schoolchildren under the age of 13 "across the internet, across devices, in their homes, and well outside the education sphere, all without obtaining verifiable parental consent."

Balderas said his office had gathered evidence that Google, through its "G-Suite for Education" software package distributed to children via Chromebook laptop computers, collected extensive data about children and their families including physical locations, website browsing, content viewed on YouTube (owned by Google), all Google searches and selected results, personal contact lists and passwords — even voice recordings.

In court filings, Google argued that online service providers are permitted to use schools as intermediaries for parental notifications and consent, and that it had secured permission to gather student data.

Further, Google argued that claims the state made under the New Mexico Unfair Practices Act did not apply because the activity was not connected to purchases by schools or families and the allegations did not include actionable conduct. 

The program, launched in 2006, has been adopted at schools nationwide and at the time of the lawsuit was accessed by some 80 million teachers and students. The computers' software applications include email, calendar and other applications as well as cloud storage.

On its company blog, Google wrote in June that it does not use personal user information from K-12 students to target ads. If the school's domain administrator enables services like YouTube, Maps and Blogger, the company said students may see ads on those services but that the company would not use personal information to target ads. 

Federal Judge Nancy Freudenthal ruled that New Mexico did not state a claim that Google violated the law by relying on schools to provide notice and secure consent from students' families, nor state a claim alleging "inadequate notice and lack of authorization." 

"We are pleased with the ruling," Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda said. "We are committed to partnering with schools to protect students' privacy.” 

The dismissal leaves a door open for the state to file an amended complaint. On Monday, Balderas did not indicate that he would. 

"The law is clear that Google must protect our children's privacy, and we strongly disagree with the Court's ruling and will continue to litigate to protect child privacy rights," Balderas wrote in a statement. "For years massive tech companies like Google have lobbied Washington to keep themselves from being regulated, and I have no doubt that a company that has already paid millions of dollars in fines to the federal government is not putting the privacy and security of children first."

©2020 the Las Cruces Sun-News (Las Cruces, N.M.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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