Children sue Google for collecting face scans, 'voiceprints' of millions of students

Google launches a camera that uses artificial intelligence to detect when to take candid photographs.
Google launches a camera that uses artificial intelligence to detect when to take candid photographs. | Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

As numerous schools are using Google’s tools to hold online classes amid the COVID-19 outbreak, two Illinois children have filed a lawsuit alleging that the multinational technology company is collecting biometric data, including face scans, of millions of students.

Seeking class-action status, the children — identified only as H.K. and J.C. — filed the lawsuit on Thursday in a federal court in San Jose, California, through their father, Clinton Farwell, according to CNET.

In their complaint, the children allege that Google is using its services to create face templates and “voiceprints” of children through its program that provides Chromebooks and G Suite for Education apps, including student versions of Gmail, Calendar and Google Docs, to school districts across the country.

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“Google has complete control over the data collection, use, and retention practices of the ‘G Suite for Education’ service, including the biometric data and other personally identifying information collected through the use of the service, and uses this control not only to secretly and unlawfully monitor and profile children but to do so without the knowledge or consent of those children's parents,” the lawsuit says, according to Tech Times.

Last week, Google announced a partnership with California Gov. Gavin Newsom in providing more than 4,000 Chromebooks to students across the state.

According to the complaint, the data collection violates Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act, which regulates facial recognition, fingerprinting and other biometric technologies in the state. 

A federal law, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, also prohibits sites from collecting personal information from users who are under 13 years old without parental consent.

The children are asking for damages of over $1,000 for each member of the class for BIPA violations if those violations are due to the company’s “negligence,” or around $5,000 each for each offense committed “intentionally or recklessly.”

As part of a settlement last September, Google and YouTube were asked to pay $136 million to the Federal Trade Commission and $34 million to New York for allegedly violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act Rule.

“YouTube touted its popularity with children to prospective corporate clients,” FTC Chairman Joe Simons said at the time in a statement. “Yet when it came to complying with COPPA, the company refused to acknowledge that portions of its platform were clearly directed to kids. There’s no excuse for YouTube’s violations of the law.” 

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