November 1, 2013
The companies that administer college admissions tests to hundreds of thousands of high school students across the U.S. every year are being sued in a class action lawsuit for selling personal information to outside parties without proper consent.
Inside Higher Ed reported that the multimillion-dollar class action lawsuit against ACT and the College Board was filed earlier this week in a federal court in Illinois. According to Philly.com, the plaintiff, Illinois resident Rachel Specter, accused the companies of consumer fraud and deceptive business practices, breach of contract, invasion of privacy and misappropriation of confidential data, and unjust enrichment. Bloomberg reported that Specter took the exams three to four years ago and is seeking to represent others who have taken either test since 2003.
Both companies ask permission to share personal identifying information, or PII, including names, birth dates and social security numbers, but does not disclose that the information is sold to third parties for a profit. Information is sold to buyers for about 33 cents a student, but Philly.com reported that that cost went up last month -- the College Board now charges 37 cents per name and the ACT charges 38 cents.
Philly.com pointed out that the College Board's website states that the company shares information with educational institutions, but says test scores, phone numbers and social security numbers are not provided. Inside Higher Ed noted that the companies have been selling high school students' information to colleges for years in order to help those colleges better market themselves to students. The lawsuit claims that the companies' statements are misleading because test-takers are never told that their information will be sold for monetary gains.
"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," stated the October 28 complaint, as quoted by Bloomberg.
Many colleges and universities require applicants to take either the ACT or SAT for admission. According to Philly.com, more than 1.6 million students from the U.S. high school graduating class of 2013 took the SAT. Some 1.8 million took the ACT. The ACT gives students the chance to opt out, which prevents the company from distributing any information. Students who take the SAT, on the other hand, must opt in to have their information distributed. Still, the problem, as the lawsuit claims, is that students are never told that the ACT and College Board profit from the distribution.
Inside Higher Ed reported that both the ACT and College Board would not comment on the litigation. An ACT spokesperson told Inside Higher Ed that the lawsuit was a "unique instance", meaning that ACT has not encountered similar challenges in the past. A College Board spokesperson told Inside Higher Ed that "the College Board takes very seriously the privacy, security and confidentiality of information entrusted to us by the students in our care." Philly.com reported, however, that both companies were questioned in 2011, when two members of the U.S. Congress raised concerns about how testing companies collected and stored student test-taker data.
Compiled by Heidi M. Agustin
"ACT and College Board Sued for Selling Student Information," insidehighered.com, November 1, 2013, http://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2013/11/01/act-and-college-board-sued-selling-student-information
"College Board, ACT sued over sale of student information," philly.com, October 31, 2013, Emily Babay, http://www.philly.com/philly/news/College_Board_ACT_sued_over_sale_of_student_information.html
"SAT and ACT College Test Companies Sued Over Data Sales," bloomberg.com, October 31, 2013, Andrew Harris, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-10-31/sat-and-act-college-test-companies-sued-over-data-sales.html