Google Urges Judge To Toss New Mexico AG's Suit Over Children's Privacy

Google is asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit accusing the company of violating children's privacy laws by placing apps developed by Tiny Lab -- which allegedly collects data from young children -- in Google Play's “Designed for Families” program.

The company contends in papers filed late last week that it isn't responsible for any violations of the federal Children's Online Privacy Protection Act by Tiny Lab. That law prohibits app developers from knowingly collecting a host of data -- including names, email addresses, device IDs, geolocation information and other "persistent identifiers" -- from children younger than 13 without their parents' consent.'

“Google Play is not alleged to have collected and used any information from children through the Tiny Lab apps,” the company writes in papers filed with U.S. Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing in Albuquerque. “Google Play is merely a platform for the sale or distribution of apps and the Federal Trade Commission -- the agency charged with rulemaking and enforcement under COPPA -- has made clear that COPPA does not apply to such platforms.”

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Google's papers come in response to a lawsuit filed by New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, who alleged last September that Google, Twitter and other tech companies violated federal and state children's privacy laws.

The allegations centered on Tiny Lab -- a company based in Lithuania -- that allegedly gleaned personal data from young users who download mobile games like "Fun Kid Racing." Tiny Lab alleged its apps complied with the law.

Balderas alleged both that Google wrongly placed Tiny Lab's apps in the Play store's “Designed for Families” section, and that Google's AdMob, Twitter's MoPub, and other tech companies facilitate the data transfers.

Google says it isn't responsible under either of the Attorney General's theories. The company argues that not only are platforms like the Play store protected from liability, but that AdMob had no independent obligation to investigate whether Tiny Lab -- which said its apps were not directed at children -- was telling the truth.

“If Tiny Lab has, in fact, falsely represented the child-directed nature of its apps to Google and thereby failed to comply with COPPA, it alone is responsible under COPPA for that failure,” Google writes.

Last September, before Balderas sued, it terminated Tiny Lab’s Google Play account and removed Tiny Lab’s apps.

Google notes in its papers that questions about whether platforms are responsible for COPPA violations by app developers have never before been litigated.

Twitter's MoPub and other tech companies also filed papers seeking dismissal of the lawsuit.

This spring, researchers at the Berkeley's International Computer Science Institute reported that thousands of free children's apps for Android devices may be collecting data from children in violation of the federal Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. That law prohibits app developers from knowingly collecting a host of data -- including names, email addresses, device IDs, geolocation information and other "persistent identifiers" -- from children younger than 13 without their parents' consent.'

Tiny Lab allegedly instituted an age-gate that screened out users who said they were younger than 13. But the FTC has said that apps aimed at children can't comply with COPPA merely by attempting to ban users younger than 13.

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