Does Google violate the privacy rights of students by collecting personal data when they use its educational apps?

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood says yes in a new lawsuit accusing the tech company of illegally gathering and using the information for advertising purposes.

Formerly known as Google Apps for Education, the G Suite for Education is a Web-based service marketed by Google as a free service for use by educational institutions. Through a child's G Suite 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," according to the complaint.

The AG alleged that this use of children's information violates the K-12 School Service Provider Pledge to Safeguard Student Privacy that Google made in January of 2015. As part of the pledge, Google promised not to "collect, maintain, use or share student personal information beyond that needed for authorized educational/school purposes, or as authorized by the parent/student," and not to "build a personal profile of a student other than for supporting authorized educational/school purposes or as authorized by the parent/student."

Despite these assurances, Google follows and tracks students' activity, collects information from their actions, stores that information, and uses the data for advertising purposes, the AG alleged, none of which it disclosed as required by its pledge.

Hood argued that since Google unfairly secured contracts with the state public schools and gained an unfair advantage over competitors who offered similar services without data mining, it violated the Mississippi Consumer Protection Act.

The suit seeks an order that requires Google to cease its unfair and deceptive conduct, to fully disclose the extent of its collection, processing and use of data, and to pay civil penalties of up to $10,000 for "each and every" student account created by Google that violated state law.

To read the complaint in Mississippi v. Google, Inc., click here.

Why it matters: The lawsuit tracks allegations previously made by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, although Hood acknowledged that the degree of Google's alleged data collection is unknown. "Through this lawsuit, we want to know the extent of Google's data mining and marketing of student information to third parties," he said at a press conference announcing the action. "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."