Google Sued For Allegedly Collecting Students' Biometric Data

The father of two elementary school students has brought a class-action complaint against Google for allegedly violating privacy laws by collecting voiceprints, faceprints, and other personal information from children.

“Google has unleashed its immensely powerful biometrics-collection technology on primary and secondary school children throughout the country,” Illinois resident Clinton Farwell alleges in a complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Farwell alleges that Google is violating the federal Children's Online Privacy Protection Act as well as the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act. The federal law prohibits web companies from collecting personal data from children under 13 without their parents' permission, while the Illinois law prohibits the collection of biometric data -- including facial recognition scans and voice prints -- without the consent of users or their representatives.

The Illinois law provides for lawsuits by private citizens, but the federal children's privacy law only allows the Federal Trade Commission and other law enforcement authorities to bring suit. But Farwell claims that Google's alleged violation of the children's privacy law amounts to an unfair business practice in California.

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The complaint centers on Google's educational programs -- including “G Suite for Education,” as well as Chromebooks distributed to students. The complaint comes around five weeks after New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas alleged in a separate lawsuit that Google's educational apps violate children's privacy.

He alleges that Google's “G Suite for Education” platform instructs children to speak into Chromebooks' microphones and to look into the camera, in order to gather biometric data.

“Google never informed the parents of the children in Illinois (or elsewhere in the country) whose voiceprints and face templates it has collected of the specific purpose and length of term for which their children’s biometric identifiers and information would be collected, stored, and used, nor did Google obtain a written release from the parents of any of these children,” the lawsuit alleges.

Farwell is seeking monetary damages and an injunction requiring Google to destroy biometric data already collected from students.

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