Mississippi sues Google, saying it violates student privacy

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi’s Democratic attorney general is once again tangling with Google, alleging in a lawsuit that the company is illegally violating student privacy, even as some Republicans try to muzzle his ability to file such civil suits.

Attorney General Jim Hood’s suit, filed Friday in Lowndes County Chancery Court, says the California-based computer giant is breaking Mississippi consumer protection law by selling ads using data from services it provides to schools.

Google did not immediately respond Tuesday to an email from The Associated Press inquiring about the lawsuit.

In a news conference Tuesday, Hood said a test involving a student account from the state-run Mississippi School of Math and Science showed ads targeting previous searches. Hood wants a judge to order Google to stop the practice, which he said is expressly forbidden in Google’s agreement with schools.

The suit says Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc., could be fined up to $10,000 for every student account in Mississippi. With half the state’s school districts using Google’s email, calendar and other online services, that amount could top $1 billion.

Google sued Hood in 2014, saying Hood’s wide-ranging attempts to investigate whether it was aiding music pirating and illegal drug sales were illegal. The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in April that Hood’s inquiry is legal. Hood said Tuesday that investigation continues. He said outside lawyers brought the situation to him after the earlier dispute.

The move comes as some Mississippi lawmakers continue to try to trim Hood’s ability to file civil lawsuits without outside permission. A committee in the Republican-led House passed a bill Tuesday that would require a three-person panel of the governor, lieutenant governor and secretary of state to approve plans to file any civil lawsuit where the state could win more than $250,000. That panel is supposed to approve hiring some outside lawyers but has never met.

The bill moves to the full House for more consideration.

Committee Chairman Mark Baker, a Brandon Republican, said Hood is improperly setting state policy through lawsuits, usurping the Legislature’s role.

Hood’s lawsuit victories have contributed tens of millions of dollars to patch state budget holes in recent years. For example, Mississippi will gain $25 million from a settlement with New York-based Moody’s Corp., over credit ratings the company assigned to various securities before the financial crisis.

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