Sunday, December 28, 2014

College Board, ACT sued over sale of student information

A student fills in an answer sheet for a standardized test. (Photo courtesy of ACT)
A student fills in an answer sheet for a standardized test. (Photo courtesy of ACT)

The companies that administer the SAT and ACT college entrance exams are being sued over their sales of students' personal information to outside parties.

A lawsuit filed this week contends that the College Board, which runs the SAT, and ACT, Inc., sell identifying information about the hundreds of thousands of teenagers who take the exams each year without the students' consent.

The test companies are "masking the sale" of personal details about the students "under the guise of 'sharing'" the teens' information with other agencies, the suit says. It says the companies don't disclose to students that their personal information will be sold for profit.

The companies collect data from test-takers, then sell the teenagers' names and personal details to colleges. The universities use the information to market themselves to potential students.

Across the country, more than 1.6 million students in this year's high school graduating class -- including 101,368 in Pennsylvania and 83,489 in New Jersey -- took the SAT. Nearly 1.8 million graduating high school students -- including 26,171 in Pennsylvania and 24,202 in New Jersey -- took the ACT.

The lawsuit says the companies collect details about those students -- such as their names, home addresses, birth dates, phone numbers and social security numbers --  and sell it at a price of 33 cents per student, per buyer, but "at no time disclosed" to test-takers that their information would be sold "to third parties for monetary gain."

On its website, the College Board tells students it provides information to educational organizations "looking for students like you" but says the students' scores, Social Security numbers and phone numbers aren't given to other parties.

Last month, the College Board increased its fees for student information to 37 cents per name; the ACT now charges 38 cents per name.

Carly Lindauer, College Board's director of advoacy communications, said in an email that the company doesn't comment on pending lawsuits. She added that "as a guiding principle in all we do, the College Board takes very seriously the privacy, security and confidentiality of information entrusted to us by the students in our care."

An ACT spokeswoman did not have immediate comment on the suit, but said the company generally doesn't discuss ongoing litigation.

Students must opt-in to allow the SAT to distribute their information, while they must opt-out to prevent the ACT from doing so.

The suit, filed in federal court in Chicago by Cook County resident Rachel Specter, alleges consumer fraud and deceptive business practices, breach of written contract, invasion of privacy and misappropriation of confidential information, and unjust enrichment.

"These tests are generally mandatory for students desiring to attend college after high school or earn college credit while in high school," the lawsuit says.

The companies also came under fire for the sale of student information in 2011, when two U.S. representatives raised concern about how they collected and stored student data.

"The College Board and ACT exploit their role as gatekeepers to college access and use that role to obtain consent from minors to sell their information," Joel Reidenberg, a Fordham University law professor who founded the school's Center on Law and Information Policy, told Bloomberg at the time.


Contact Emily Babay at 215-854-2153 or ebabay@philly.com. Follow @emilybabay on Twitter.

Contact the Breaking News Desk at 215-854-2443 or BreakingNewsDesk@philly.com. Follow @phillynews on Twitter.

Emily Babay PHILLY.COM
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