Google Hating Mississippi Attorney General Sues Company... With Ammo From EFF

from the well,-this-could-get-interesting dept

We've written a fair amount about Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood over the years, with a major focus on his factually-challenged hatred of Google, that may or may not be influenced by Hood's heavy funding from Hollywood. What is known, however, is that the MPAA, quite clearly, decided to use Hood as a pawn in its campaign to attack Google. The Sony Pictures hack from a few years back revealed a detailed plan, put together by the MPAA, to funnel money and resources to Hood solely for the purpose of attacking Google with questionable legal claims. Hood's first attempt to do so (with letters that were literally written by the MPAA's lawyers) effectively failed, following a legal challenge from Google.

Hood, of course, is not one to give up, so he's back again with a lawsuit filed against Google, arguing that the company has violated student privacy with its Google Apps for Education. If this sounds vaguely familiar, here's the twist: this is the same basic complaint that the EFF complained about in a filing to the FTC a year and a half ago. The EFF, of course, actively fought Jim Hood in his initial attack on Google, so it's a neat trick by Hood (and, perhaps, the MPAA?) to now use the EFF's own legal arguments against Google.

As I stated back when the EFF filed its complaint, even though we frequently agree with the EFF on things (and even though we wish Google was better on privacy), I'm still struggling to see what the privacy violation is here. The key issue is that Google signed a pledge -- the Student Privacy Pledge -- which says that when offering its apps to schools, it will safeguard student's privacy in some very clear ways. Multiple third parties, including the Future of Privacy Forum -- who helped create the very pledge Google is accused of violating -- has looked at Google's G Suite for Education and concluded that it complies with the pledge. There are no ads in the G Suite for Education, which is the main privacy issue. But the EFF's complaint was that by sync'ing student accounts, it's storing information about the students in violation of the pledge. But the sync feature is just to allow students to be able to log in from multiple devices and have the same experience -- and Google insists that none of that information is ever used for advertising or other datamining. If it turns out that's not true, then there are issues. But if Google is being accurate here, I'm just don't see where the problem is.

As far as I can tell, the FTC has done nothing with the EFF's complaint. But now it appears that (without naming EFF), Jim Hood has decided to jump in to the legal waters and claim that Google is violating its pledge on student data privacy.

It feels like someone in Hood's office (again, perhaps with some nudging from friends at the MPAA) decided that it would be a neat trick to use the EFF's own complaint against Google to go after Google yet again. It most likely will mean that EFF won't oppose Jim Hood as it did last time around. However, taking a step back and looking at the actual complaint, it's difficult to see how it will stick. As stated above, the organizations that created the very pledge in the first place have claimed that EFF is wrong (and are now saying that Hood is wrong), and that Google complies with the pledge itself. This also seems like a weird issue for Hood to focus on for any other reason than because he wants to attack Google. In fact, it's questionable how this is anything but an Attorney General using his position for something of a personal vendetta against a company he dislikes.

It will be interesting to see how Google responds to this lawsuit... and how far it can actually go.

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Filed Under: apps for education, jim hood, mississippi, privacy, privacy pledge, students
Companies: eff, google


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Jan 2017 @ 8:54am

    Jim Hood Special Investigation Unit

    This would be an awesome show. Right up until the end of the first season when it turns that Mr Hood, has so many moral imperfections, he is a sponge and that the Media companies are using it against him. I would honestly just start using my government sources to get all of the data on him and make him leave office. There is no way someone that inept could get into office on their own. They have skeletons in their closet and are just being the puppet of someone with the strings to pull.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ro, 19 Jan 2017 @ 8:54am

    You seem to confuse privacy violations with annoyances.

    The collection of info is the violation. Using already collected info to target an ad results in the annoyance of there being an ad.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      kallethen, 19 Jan 2017 @ 9:05am

      Re:

      The pledge is specifically about using info for advertising, according to what the Future of Privacy Forum says (if I understood their article correctly).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Jan 2017 @ 10:40am

        Re: Re:

        That's not actually the case. It's also about collection and use of data for non-educational purposes. In particular, the pledge says Google will:

        "Not collect, maintain, use or share student personal information beyond that needed for authorized educational/school purposes, or as authorized by the parent/student."

        Do you really think Google is siloing the sync data for students away, and not including it in their general data analytics about how to improve Chrome or other non-educational Google products?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Jan 2017 @ 9:08am

    Remember, it was Mississippi that first busted Philip Morris with successful tobacco lawsuit to refund cost of treating lung cancer. Pm settled without the trial.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jordan Chandler, 19 Jan 2017 @ 9:19am

    Does he have a boss?

    Is there someone who can stop him from spending tax payers money on this crap?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Jan 2017 @ 9:22am

      Re: Does he have a boss?

      Not until Google realizes that they have to do something and fund an opponent to him in the next election.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Jan 2017 @ 10:24am

        Re: Re: Does he have a boss?

        or those pesky citizens decide to stop voting for turds.... good luck!

        Meanwhile it will be just like you said. Until Google tries to install or fund their own patsy to work for them in government.

        Question, did you state that because you are okay with businesses funding their own government patsies or because you are so used to the corruption that you provided a corruption based solution to a problem caused by apathetic citizens?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Jan 2017 @ 9:23am

    How long before Google claims abuse of process/power.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    jilocasin (profile), 19 Jan 2017 @ 9:33am

    Google stopped....

    If you look at the EFF page ( https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2016/10/google-changes-its-tune-when-it-comes-tracking-students ) discussing things, it looks like Google was tracking students via their student [Google Apps for Education] accounts and then using that data to build a profile used to market to them when the were using any other Google service outside of a very limited number that Google claimed were covered by their pledge.

    Google initially argued that technically they were abiding by their privacy agreement, they didn't show ads within the Google Apps for Education apps.

    Apparently in response to the EFF complaint they have stopped collecting data on student accounts. So while Mr. Hood may be able to complain about the past, it isn't ongoing. Other than some sort of monetary fine, there isn't anything for the courts to do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Vincent Clement (profile), 19 Jan 2017 @ 12:12pm

      Re: Google stopped....

      No, EFF says "it appeared" that Google was tracking or could track students based on the EFFs interpretation of their policy and privacy settings. That's much different from "Google was tracking".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 19 Jan 2017 @ 9:40am

    The MPAA.... That's like Amazon Echo for Hollywood studios? "Alexa, take down that web site." "Alexa, buy me an Attorney General."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    PrivacyLover, 19 Jan 2017 @ 10:14am

    Motivation seems horrible but what's wrong verifying Google claims?

    We have technology in our homes that spy on everyone including our children. Legal framework to enforce privacy is non-existent. Verifying Google's voluntary privacy claims doesn't seem like such a bad idea. In this case the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Jan 2017 @ 10:25am

      Re: Motivation seems horrible but what's wrong verifying Google claims?

      "In this case the enemy of my enemy is my friend."

      Right up till they stab you in the back! Quote is best phrased as a question.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Jan 2017 @ 10:20am

    Hi givden how Hood is being funded to do this and by whom, cant he be brought up on corruption charges, be forced to do what he should, be named and shamed along with his sponcers, lose his job and jailed? After all, seems that what he's doing sure ain't in the best interests of anyone else!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Dave Cortright (profile), 19 Jan 2017 @ 10:43am

    Easy fix: stop allowing Google services to Mississippi IP addresses

    will all URLs redirecting to a single static page a suggesting that consumers call Hood's office and ask him why he is SLAPPing Google around.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Jan 2017 @ 10:48am

    mike can you provide a source for the statement "Google insists that none of that information is ever used for advertising or other datamining"?

    their privacy policies say they don't target advertising, but i cant find anything that says they dont collect data and use it for untargeted advertising by feeding it into their general datamining or advertising analytics systems

    sounds to me like theyre still collecting data, and they just turned off targeted advertising (the same way any person can disable targeted advertising, but not data collection)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anon E. Mous (profile), 19 Jan 2017 @ 10:56am

    This is nothing but Hood going for retribution as a way to get back at Google for the embarrassment he suffered from the MPAA/Hood fiasco and using the EFF's complaint to do that.

    Hood doesn't even attempt to change much in the complaint other then add in his own two cents to make it applicable to Mississippi, and In my opinion very thinly at that.

    Everyone knows that Hood being exposed as an MPAA puppet via info from the Sony Pictures hack made him look like a clown with the big floppy shoes and red nose and Google held Hood's feet to the fire and pursued it in court and you know Hood took a beating over that politically and in the media and I am sure his ego was more than a little hurt at being exposed.

    The MPAA didn't like that they got caught with their pants down in this fiasco either not did the law firm that drafted the Hood complaint used against Google in the first go round, a lot of people took a ego thumping that day and were exposed as shills of the MPAA but no one more than Hood.

    Hood hasnt exactly been able to get back at Google for dragging him thru the mud, but this is just one step to try and get a little payback.

    The irony here is that Hood is using the EFF's own complaint to once again go after Google just shows you that much like the first time Hood used the MPAA drafted complaint, that using someone else's work to get the dirty deed is right up Hood's alley and there doesn't seem to be one original thought to come out of Hoods head.

    Makes me wonder how the hell did Hood get elected to office as the Mississippi AG when he cant seem to come up with anything on his own.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Jan 2017 @ 11:12am

    Are you telling me that Hood pirated the EFF's complaint?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Sok Puppette, 19 Jan 2017 @ 12:34pm

    If it's not a privacy problem for Google to collect data so long as it doesn't use them, I assume you agree with the US Government's contention that it hasn't "intercepted" phone or Internet traffic so long as no human has looked at the contents...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 19 Jan 2017 @ 2:15pm

    So... devoid of any actual evidentiary claims or discovery requests. Good filing. I guess you can do that.

    Does he know that ads can be targeted to the content of the page being viewed, and have crap-all to do with a profile? Is the State of Mississippi aware of ad and script blockers? Is Hood aware that one can opt out of targeted ads and tracking with any Google account?

    I am not under any illusions about being tracked and harvested by Google or anyone else, and I am not going to be the first person in line to nominate teh Goog for sainthood. But i think providing the apps, just as MS provides free software education programs and discounted student editions of software, is plenty enough market capture and they don't need to collect data or target ads here.

    And yes we could all do with better privacy policies and TOS across the board. So why don't you do something about that, asshole. (Because that isn't really the problem, is it?)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 20 Jan 2017 @ 4:16am

      Re:

      According to Ars (http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2017/01/mississippi-ag-jim-hood-sues-google-again/) he seems to have conducted tests that suggested something was being collected even if ads were not shown in the app suite. Whether it holds in court or not is to be seen but as Mike said there was auditing before and the ones that made the pledge told Google was ok. Stay tuned!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Jan 2017 @ 3:13pm

    Depends on what Hood wants to accomplish

    In a knife fight, the object isn't to cut out your opponents heart. While that might be the winning move, rarely can it be accomplished.

    No, the object is to bleed your opponent out. Sometimes with major wounds, but mostly with many lesser wounds.

    Hood and his cronies at the MPAA and RIAA are simply switching tactics from trying to gut Google, to simply bleeding them out. With a side dish of defamation and loudly crying "THIEF!".

    There ought to be a kick starter campaign to fund Hood's political opponent. If they want Citizens United to stand, let's give it to them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Jan 2017 @ 4:52pm

    This also seems like a weird issue for Hood to focus on for any other reason than because he wants to attack Google.

    You have to remember that Hood is taking barking orders from the MPAA, who has a history of claiming that piracy is responsible for everything from terrorism to child pornography to toothache.

    Frankly, God bless the Sony leaks for forcing the MPAA and Hood to tip their hand.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Jan 2017 @ 9:37pm

    Again and again it is pointed out. Again and again you deny it (or your cronies deny it for you). And yet, here again, you are caught red handed - sucking google's dick.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Jan 2017 @ 1:10am

      Re:

      People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

      You might want to wipe off Cary Sherman's deposit off your face before trying again.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2017 @ 4:44pm

    Hood is mearly demonstrating the need for a well written federal anti-slapp law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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