ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A U.S. district judge has rejected an effort to derail New Mexico’s lawsuit against Twitter, Google and other companies that develop and market mobile gaming apps for children.
The judge concluded in a ruling Tuesday that the court has jurisdiction over the case, clearing the way for it to proceed.
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas filed the lawsuit in 2018, taking aim at Google, Twitter, their online ad businesses and mobile app maker Tiny Lab Productions. He accused them of violating state and federal laws aimed at protecting the privacy of children by collecting information through the apps without consent.
The case was initiated as public concerns escalated about whether information on online interests, browsing and buying habits were slipping into the hands of data brokers without their consent. An Associated Press investigation at the time found that many Google services on Android devices and iPhones were storing user location even if users turned off location history.
Balderas has said he’s concerned about the potential for exploitation, saying the apps in question can accurately track where children live, go to school and play.
According to the lawsuit, Google was notified in 2018 by security researchers at the University of California-Berkeley that they had identified privacy-invasive technology and practices in Tiny Lab’s gaming apps. Google responded to the researchers, saying the apps were not designed primarily for children, but for families in general so there were no violations of the federal privacy laws.
New Mexico prosecutors said in the lawsuit that the defendants were aware of the violations but failed to take steps to cure the misconduct.
Google ended up removing apps by Tiny Lab from its Google Play Store, but Tiny Lab argued that it wasn’t violating the law meant to keep private the personal data of children younger than 13.
The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act adopted by Congress requires websites and online services to disclose what information they collect from children and how they use that information. That disclosure must also be provided directly to parents and verified consent must be given.
The lawsuit accuses the defendants of violating these federal mandates.
New Mexico is seeking civil penalties and asking the court for a permanent injunction to prevent further violations of state and federal laws.