Judge Sides Against Google In Battle Over Children's Data

Siding against Google, a federal judge has ruled that the company must face claims that it wrongly collected personal data from smartphone users under the age of 13.

The decision, issued Tuesday by U.S. District Court Judge P. Casey Pitts in the Northern District of California, stems from a complaint filed last year by parents of six young children who allegedly downloaded children's apps from Android's Play Store -- including apps developed by Tiny Lab Productions, such as Fun Kid Racing and Monster Truck Racing.

Those apps were designated by Google as “Designed for Families,” a now deprecated program that required participating developers to certify compliance with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. That law prohibits app developers from collecting personal data, including device identifiers, from children younger than 13 without their parents' consent.



The plaintiffs, led by California resident Jen Turner, alleged in a class-action complaint that Google's AdMob wrongly collected smartphone data from those apps, and that Google should have known that the data was coming from children.

Google “knowingly and intentionally collected personal information without parental consent to track and profile the children using these apps and target them with highly lucrative behavioral advertising,” the complaint alleged.

Among other claims, the plaintiffs alleged that Google engaged in “intrusion upon seclusion” -- a privacy claim that can be brought in California, and that involves “highly offensive” conduct. The complaint also accused Google of violating consumer protection measures in California, New York and Florida.

Google urged Pitts to dismiss the lawsuit at an early stage, arguing that the claims were untimely because it banned Tiny Lab from the Play Store in 2018.

Google contended the statutes of limitations for “nearly all” claims in the lawsuit ranged from one to four years -- meaning that any claims arising from activity that occurred before June of 2019 were time-barred.

Attorneys for Turner and the others countered that even if Google banned Tiny Lab, AdMob allegedly continued through 2021 to collect data from children who had downloaded Tiny Lab's apps. Counsel also argued that Google allegedly collected data from children's apps developed by companies other than Tiny Lab.

Pitts rejected Google's argument, at least for now.

“Because plaintiffs allege that unlawful tracking and advertising was occurring through Android apps at least until 2021, defendants cannot establish, from the face of the complaint, that plaintiffs’ claims are time-barred,” he wrote.

Google additionally argued that the complaint should be dismissed on the grounds that the claims were covered by the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, which doesn't authorize lawsuits by individuals.

Pitts rejected Google's argument on that point as well, noting that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that the federal children's privacy law doesn't prohibit individuals from suing over “parallel” claims rooted in state laws.

Google previously settled a children's privacy lawsuit brought by former New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas. He alleged that Tiny Lab, based in Lithuania, illegally gleans personal data from young users who download games like Fun Kid Racing, and that Google's AdMob was among the tech companies that facilitated the data transfers.

Google resolved that matter by agreeing to $3.8 million and create a new fund, the "Google New Mexico Kids Initiative."

The deal in that case also required Google to require Play Store apps to implement age-screening techniques to avoid collecting data from children under 13. Google began doing so in 2019, soon after Balderas sued the company.

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