Google, New Mexico, Congress discussed on BTV Simulcast


Of education technology this week. New Mexico has been at the forefront of child privacy. The state sued Google just before the pandemic. Over the collection of personal information about children without proper parental consent. New Mexico school districts, especially those with fewer resources, use Google's free education tools, but the state says the company improperly used student data. Joining us now, one of the most proactive prosecutors in the country when it comes to kids tech and privacy, Hector balderas, attorney general of New Mexico, attorney general balderas. Thank you so much for joining us. Glad to be with you. So this suit back in 2020 of Google, which was before the pandemic even hit at that time, you said you're investigation revealed that Google tracks children across the Internet across devices in their homes and well outside the educational sphere all without obtaining verifiable parental consent. What concerns you so much about what you saw that you believed Google was doing with student data? Well, there are three areas of risk that was very concerned with and the reason I did bring the investigation and the lawsuit. First is that our nation, our Congress, members of law enforcement have been primarily asleep at the wheel when it comes to data privacy. In other words, banks are not protected, our personal information as adults is not very well protected. And so I already knew the environment was very difficult. Number two, these are children and minors. And so when we already have an inadequate environment that exploits consumerism and privacy, I was very concerned that from a safety perspective, these technology companies were tracking marketing and really monetizing on the backs of children. And then finally, number three, it's a violation of federal law. There is already a prohibition built into the law that says that technology companies can not market and profiteer and gather data of minors without the consent of parents. And so it was really three tiers of risk and ultimately I thought it was very important to try to change this course because these miners are so innocent, small and really unaware that this practice is being imposed on them because they just want to play video games or go to school and use this technology in a positive way. You settled with Google back in December of 2021, the company agreed to set up a privacy and online safety initiative for kids in New Mexico. Some folks looked at this as a victory for Google. Would you have wanted more? You know, absolutely, but I was strategic. I'm one of the few AGs in the country that understands that this is a risk. Most members in Congress are barely struggling to use their iPhones as we speak today. And so our nation is very, very behind decades and generations behind and really holding technology companies accountable. So I was more focused not necessarily in the monetary victory. I was trying to change the way Google does business and Google does business in schools and we were successful in that. But the ultimate mission of this lawsuit is also to be a learning tool for other attorneys general other consumer advocates to make sure that we keep an eye on our schools and make sure that we safeguard technology and how we use those services in our school districts. Well, now because of the pandemic, you got more tech more computers, more software, more apps in the classroom and being used outside the classroom. What are your biggest concerns now two years later? Well, I think there has to be a shift at some point both in our school districts. There has to be a greater emphasis on privacy and security. We're starting to now see hacking and basically these type of scams that are really bringing pain and hardship to our school districts, even schools are having trouble safeguarding their own data. So I'm hopefully going to see the conversation shift to more safety based. And then secondly, we have to have a moral debate in the halls of Congress and in our legislative bodies, not just about protecting data and protecting school children. But really, who should own this data, I don't think it's fair that we are allowed to track adults and children utilizing these products and then technology companies are the ones that profiteer and monetize this behavior. I think there's going to be a longer conversation about really imposing more safeguards, but is it fair? Shouldn't I make a dollar off of the data that I generate using these technology services? I think that's a debate that has to go on. Both in our school districts, but also in the halls of Congress. How much of a problem do you think it is that a lot of this stuff is free? Free for these schools, kids, parents, to use, and when it's free, you've got more under resourced districts utilizing it. Well, I'm a big proponent in technology. I think technology is a great equalizer in terms of education outcomes. But we are not regulating these companies and we are not regulating safety and these safeguards within these technology products. And so I think that when they say these things are free, we really need to question why is it that that is the nature of the deal. Nothing is free. What we're signing up as parents and as educators and as lawmakers is this technology primarily benefits students. But what the Google is not telling our teachers and our administrators is that they're tracking valuable data, behavioral data, these students. And then where they're using it to sell this valuable data to other companies. And I think that's the immoral question that needs to happen. You know, when I'm an old man, so when I used to play Atari, and I used to play video games, my expectation was not that they were tracking me and then going to go sell my data to other companies. That's a question that I think lawmakers have failed to grapple. So easy to say there needs to be regulation, but the bigger question is how? I'm curious what you think of the American innovation and choice online act, which is waiting for a vote. In the Senate, you mentioned earlier that a lot of lawmakers are just having trouble trying to figure out how to use their iPhones. Do you agree with how lawmakers are looking at regulating big tech right now? Is there agreement between Congress and prosecutors across the country? You know, there is not. There's consequential debates always going on between prosecutors and members of Congress, who should own the data, who regulates and who really should profit. I ultimately think that this all these complex questions need to be shifted over to a much simpler question. We are a nation where we all own property I own my automobile. I own my home. I pay my taxes. The real question technology companies and member of Congress and prosecutors need to really come to the table with is, should I make a profit or be monetizing my own data? Why is it that I'm using these technology services, but I don't benefit in any way financially. We are a great capitalist system. I think a lot will be worked out once we figure out who really should own the data. Right now, we don't own any of the data that these companies are securing. And I think ultimately, that capitalist model will be one that really is what's going to set the tone for regulation and policy in the future. So back to education post pandemic, big concern about learning loss and the learning gap over the last couple of years, a new report shows that there was the largest ever drop in reading scores since 1990, the first ever drop in math, New Mexico, in particular, according to U.S. news and World Report, is in last place for education quality. Why do you think that is, what can be done about it and how do you think tech can hopefully help? You know, traditionally there's been a disconnect with educators have not been really at this innovation conversation with technology. We've been consumers of it, we've been fans and we utilize these products, but we really need to redesign education where technology is a tool, but ultimately it's used as a great equalizer. And I have great hope that technology can improve reading math, science scores, but there's been a disconnect. Technology companies are driven by profits and innovation. They've really not been at the forefront in terms of the design of educational services and curriculum. And so I think bringing all of these parties together, I think we can make a

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