Are ACT and College Board selling student personal data?
ACT Inc. and the College Board, companies that administer college admissions tests taken by high school students across the U.S., were accused in a lawsuit of selling personal data without permission.
ACT and the College Board, whose exams include the SAT and those for advanced placement, ask for permission to share data including names, birth dates and social security numbers without disclosing that information is being sold to scores of buyers for about 33 cents a student, according to the complaint in federal court in Chicago. The plaintiff, Illinois resident Rachel Specter, accuses the companies of breach of contract for selling the personal identifying information, or PII.
“The fact that any third party who was willing to pay substantial sums of money to the defendants would be given access to the plaintiff’s and class’ PII was not part of the parties’ contract,” according to the Oct. 28 complaint.
Specter, who took the exams three to four years ago, alleges the companies invaded her privacy and have been unjustly enriched by data sales. Along with unspecified money damages, she seeks to represent other test-takers since 2003 in a class-action lawsuit.
Read more here.
More from bloomberg.com in 2011 on student data being released:
More than 90 percent of students who take the SAT register online, said the College Board’s Steinberg. The same percentage register online for ACT tests, said Ed Colby, a spokesman for that company. Students are asked to “opt in” to the search service to let schools and scholarship programs provide materials. They can also opt out. Students aren’t told their names will be sold and their parents aren’t asked for permission.
The College Board and ACT sell student names and information to colleges at 33 cents a name, according to the companies. About 1,100 colleges and universities use the College Board’s Student Search Service, Jennifer Topiel, another College Board spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.
Colleges perform searches based on bands of test scores to create lists of prospective applicants. They can search on criteria such as self-reported grades, ethnicity and religion, generated by the survey questions asked of the students.
How many students are registered with the College Board and ACT?
The College Board’s database of student names includes about 5.1 million with e-mail addresses. The New York-based company had $63 million in revenue from its business that includes name-selling in the year ended June 2010. Iowa City, Iowa-based ACT took in $7.5 million in revenue from its Educational Opportunity Service for the most recent year, which ended in August, the company said. It has a database of 2.4 million names of high school sophomores, juniors and seniors.
Multiply 5.1 million and 2.4 million by 33 cents and that’s quite a tidy sum for these organizations. I can envision requiring College Board and ACT executives to complete a Common Core math exercise in the discovery process for the current lawsuit:
- Multiply 5.1 million and 2.4 million by 33 cents
- Use pictures for the million, hundred thousand, ten thousand, thousand, hundreds, tens and ones to show your answer
- Use words to show your work
- For extra credit, inform plaintiffs and parents why it is legal to sell student data without their permission