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.