Google has agreed to settle privacy claims brought by New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, who alleged that the company's mobile ad platform, AdMob, enabled a game developer to collect data from young children.
Google and Balderas disclosed in papers quietly filed last week that they had reached a deal. They have not yet revealed settlement terms.
If finalized, the deal will resolve a battle dating to September of 2018, when Balderas sued a host of tech companies, including Google and Twitter.
He alleged that the mobile game developer Tiny Lab Productions, based in Lithuania, illegally gleans personal data from young users who download games like "Fun Kid Racing," and that Google's AdMob, Twitter's MoPub, and other tech companies -- including Inmobi and AppLovin -- facilitated the data transfers.
He also alleged that 86 of Tiny Lab's gaming apps participated in Google Play's "Designed for Families" program, for apps aimed at children.
The lawsuit came four months after researchers at the
International Computer Science Institute at the University of California, Berkeley reported
that thousands of free children's apps for Android devices may be collecting data from children, in violation of Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.
That law prohibits companies from knowingly collecting personal data -- including the type of pseudonymous information used for ad targeting -- from children under 13, without parental consent.
The complaint not only referenced that report, but also alleged that Google conducted a new review of 84 Tiny Lab apps after being contacted by researchers at UC Berkeley in early 2018.
The same month that Balderas filed suit, Google terminated Tiny Lab’s Google Play account and removed Tiny Lab’s apps.
Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Martha Vazquez dismissed the claims against Twitter's MoPub, Inmobi and AppLovin -- but not against Google.
She said in a written ruling that the allegations, even if proven true, wouldn't establish that those other companies knew they were helping to collect data from young children.
But she wrote that Balderas could proceed with claims against Google's AdMob, because the allegations in the complaint, if true, could show that Google knew Tiny Lab apps were aimed at children.
She wrote that the “reasonable inference” from the allegations was that “Google conducted not one but two reviews of the content of Tiny Lab’s apps, during which Google gained ... a first-hand awareness or understanding of the child-directed nature of those apps.”
Balderas and Google are still separately battling over claims that the company's educational apps violated the federal children's privacy law by collecting data from children under the age of 13 without parental permission.
U.S. District Court U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Freudenthal dismissed those claims last year on the grounds that the Federal Trade Commission said schools could consent in lieu of parents, provided that any data collected is used for school-authorized educational purposes.
Balderas has appealed that ruling to the 10th Circuit, where the matter is currently pending.