Google could easily have guessed the remainder of the numbers from the other information they collected.
Google asked parents to enter the last four digits of their children’s Social Security Numbers, as well as their city of birth and age, as a condition to enter a Google-sponsored art contest.
As movie director Bob Bowdon points out on the Huffington Post, Google could easily have guessed the remainder of the numbers from the other information they collected. This data could be extremely valuable to marketers.
Some of the people who tipped Bowdon off about the story sent an email to the FTC on February 17 wondering if it was even legal to solicit kids’ Social Security Numbers. The next day, Google updated its consent form, removing the space for the SSNs.
Google claims the timing was a coincidence, and that it actually stopped collecting numbers after it realized it didn’t need them to distinguish the kids’ entries from one another. Google also says that the numbers “were not entered into our records and will be safely discarded.”
There’s no evidence that Google planned to do anything evil with the information, but it’s certainly a weird set of data to collect for a kids’ contest — it seems that the company could have collected other less sensitive information, like names and current city, and used that to distinguish entries from each other. Google has come under fire several times for having a seemingly cavalier attitude toward privacy, and this doesn’t help matters.