Google faces a lawsuit in the U.K. that could see it pay a substantial amount in damages to parents after it sold detailed information of their children to advertisers. The family alleges the search giant must pay up after its third-party ad network, AdSense, was able to collect sensitive data from children’s profiles without consent.
Google does not directly sell this sensitive information, it doesn’t pay for access to the data and it therefore does not gather any personal data from it. That leaves it open to users unaware that Google is collecting the information. In fact, parents do have to opt in to allowing their children to use Google Play and Android devices and that the information is only gathered if an ad request is made.
The Guardian reports that over the last decade the content we upload to our phones and tablets and the apps we use has created a huge repository of valuable data to be monetized by third parties. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it and in fact research shows that data analysis and targeting can improve brand awareness and results for advertisers. However, it’s unclear if parents are aware of this and therefore unaware that their children’s data is being shared in a manner that requires them to opt-in.
Data Protection legislation in the U.K. makes it illegal for companies to collect, use, or sell personal data without the consent of the customer. This means that companies have to explicitly seek permission from consumers for the use of information from their device and that consumers have to be shown clearly what is happening.
Google has always said that anyone who signs up for Google Play can review the information which will give them more clarity. For example you’ll be shown when your child’s “account data” is accessed.
Google says that it does not sell any identifiable information about children. The company believes that it collects lots of demographic information on children but which does not identify them as children. “Based on how kids make themselves identifiable, we believe that our data collection and collection policies comply with European and U.S. laws,” it says.
Unfortunately, the new legal suit has brought a much stronger tone to the issue. Parents have already lost in court and now the parental consent law has been reinforced in law. It could now lead to thousands of families being refunded for lost money in excess of £7,000,000.
In a nutshell, if Google’s ad network gained the data but told users it wouldn’t, then it is lying to the user. If Google’s ad network did not gain the data but were told by a third party that it had, then it must claim back any money that they overpaid for the data.