Google Can't Shake Privacy Suit By Mississippi Attorney General

In a 6-2 ruling issued late last week, Mississippi's Supreme Court rejected Google's request to immediately appeal a trial judge's decision allowing the lawsuit to proceed. The ruling means that Google must face claims that it violated a Mississippi consumer protection law by allegedly collecting data from students who used the company's education apps.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit brought by Hood in January 2017, when he accused Google of violating its privacy promises by allegedly gathering students' data. The complaint alleges that 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 argues that Google runs afoul of the Mississippi Consumer Protection Act by "failing to disclose its secret acts of data mining."

His complaint asserts that Google unfairly secured contracts with Mississippi's public schools, and wrongly gained an advantage over competitors who "offered similar services without data mining."

He also alleges that Google is violating a promise the company made in January 2015, when it signed the student privacy pledge. That pledge, developed by the industry-funded think tank Future of Privacy Forum, prohibits "school service providers" from collecting data from students except for authorized educational purposes, or as permitted by parents and students; the pledge also requires companies to destroy students' personal data after it's no longer needed for authorized purposes.

Google contended that the lawsuit should be dismissed because the company is not located in Lowndes County and doesn't have its principal place of business in that county. The company argued that the Mississippi Consumer Protection Act mandates that any lawsuits must be brought in the county where a defendant either "resides" or has a principal place of business.

A trial judge rejected that request. Google then asked Mississippi's Supreme Court to grant the company permission to appeal the ruling, and to stay the case pending appeal. A three-judge appellate panel denied that request, following which Google asked the entire court to reconsider.

"Mississippi law expressly requires the Attorney General to bring cases seeking injunctive relief under the MCPA where the defendant resides or has its principal place of business, and does not permit the Attorney General to force any corporation (foreign or domestic) to litigate such a case in any other venue," Google argued to the Mississippi Supreme Court. "Statutes mean what they say."

Hood's office countered that Google's interpretation would effectively immunize the company from enforcement actions in the state.

"Such a result would mean the Mississippi Legislature created a right without a remedy," Hood's office argued in its written brief.

The Mississippi Supreme Court did not give a reason for its decision, writing only that Google's motion "is not well-taken and should be denied."

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