That pile of lawsuits must be finally getting Google to write more user-friendly terms of service that are easily understood by all. Plus those new Google educational tools for children has just one major glitch; they are tracking their activities long after they’ve gone home. This has got the state of New Mexico’s attorney general suing the search engine giant.
Google is attempting to make sure people know exactly what they’re signing up for when they use its online services — though that will still mean reading a lengthy document.
The company updated its terms of service on Thursday — its largest update to the general use contract since 2012 — in response to a pair of court orders in Europe.
As Britain leaves the European Union, Google also announced that U.K. customers will now legally be part of its main U.S. operations rather than a separate European center based in Ireland. The company says the move won’t change how U.K. customers’ data is protected or stored. U.K. officials have said they will still abide by the EU privacy rules, called GDPR, for now.
Google has been updating its policies and tweaking what’s allowed on its services as scrutiny of the tech industry heats up in the U.S. and Europe. Google, Facebook, Twitter and other digital companies have been under a spotlight as regulators and consumers examine just how much the companies know about their users and what they do with that information.
Facebook updated its terms of service last year to clarify how it makes money from user data.
Google says it hasn’t changed anything significant in the document, but rather used plain language to describe who can use its products and what people can post online.
“Broadly speaking, we give you permission to use our services if you agree to follow these terms, which reflect how Google’s business works and how we earn money,” the document reads.
The new document is now about 2,000 words longer than it was before, in part because Google included a list of definitions and expanded it to cover Google Drive and Chrome. The new terms take effect in March.
The company also updated its “About Google” page to explain how it makes money from selling advertisements, often informed by the vast amount of customer information it collects.
As for U.K. customers, the switch to U.S. operations restores Google’s practice prior to last year. Google had switched U.K. and other European customers to Ireland last year as the GDPR privacy law took effect.
The switch back is likely to avoid having a third country’s law apply to U.K. data, said Mike Chapple, a professor of information technology at the University of Notre Dame.
“Google is one of the first companies that’s trying to untangle this messy legal aftermath of Brexit,” he said.
If it left U.K. customers to Ireland, Google could risk “double-jeopardy for fines and other sanctions” in the case of any breach because it would be subject to both U.K. and EU laws, said Michael Veale, a lecturer at University College London.
New Mexico Sues Google Over Children Data Collection
New Mexico’s attorney general sued Google Thursday over allegations the tech company is illegally collecting personal data generated by children in violation of federal and state laws.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque claims Google is using its education services package that is marketed to school districts, teachers and parents as a way to spy on children and their families.
Attorney General Hector Balderas said that while the company touts Google Education as a valuable tool for resource-deprived schools, it is a means to monitor children while they browse the internet in the classroom and at home on private networks. He said the information being mined includes everything from physical locations to websites visited, videos watched, saved passwords and contact lists.
The state is seeking unspecified civil penalties.
“Student safety should be the number one priority of any company providing services to our children, particularly in schools,” Balderas said in a statement. “Tracking student data without parental consent is not only illegal, it is dangerous.”
Google dismissed the claims as “factually wrong,” saying the G Suite for Education package allows schools to control account access and requires that schools obtain parental consent when necessary.
“We do not use personal information from users in primary and secondary schools to target ads,” said company spokesman Jose Castaneda. “School districts can decide how best to use Google for education in their classrooms and we are committed to partnering with them.”
UnlikeEurope, the U.S. has no overarching national law governing data collection and privacy. Instead, it has a patchwork of state and federal laws that protect specific types of data, such as consumer health, financial information and the personal data generated by younger children.
New Mexico’s claim cites violations of the state’s Unfair Practices Act and the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which requires websites and online services to obtain parental consent before collecting any information from children under 13. In a separate case, Google already has agreed to pay $170 million combined to the Federal Trade Commission and New York state to settle allegations its YouTube video service collected personal data on children without their parents’ consent.
According to the New Mexico lawsuit, outside its Google Education platform, the company prohibits children in the U.S. under the age of 13 from having their own Google accounts. The state contends Google is attempting to get around this by using its education services to “secretly gain access to troves of information” about New Mexico children.
The attorney general’s office filed a similar lawsuit against Google and other tech companies in 2018, targeting what Balderas described as illegal data collection from child-directed mobile apps. That case still is pending in federal court, but the companies have denied wrongdoing.
The latest lawsuit claims more than 80 million teachers and students use Google’s education platform. Balderas said in a letter to New Mexico school officials that there was no immediate harm if they continue using the products and that the lawsuit shouldn’t interrupt activities in the classroom.