One student is suing America’s big standardized test organizations for selling student information. According to a piece at Inside Higher Ed:
The lawsuit, filed this week in a federal district court in Illinois, seeks more than $5 million in damages from the test makers for “unfair, immoral, unjust, oppressive and unscrupulous” conduct. Namely, the plaintiff, a Cook County woman about which little else is known, alleges that ACT and the College Board do not tell test takers what will be done with their personal information. She said test takers are asked if ACT and the College Board can “share” personal information with others. That is misleading, the lawsuit alleges, because the information is in fact sold.
She does generally have a point in that the common use of the verb “to share” is to let to let someone else have or use a part of something that belongs to you for no money, as in, “yes, I’ll share this table with you; you may sit here.” It does not generally mean, “take stuff you have given me for free and then sell it to others and make massive profit.”
For years test makers have sold students’ personal information to colleges. The going rate is now about 37 cents a name. Colleges then use data mining to market to students to try and build the classes they want. They can use ACT and SAT information to target students with certain scores, from certain demographic groups, and with certain incomes.
The College Board apparently said 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.”
That, of course, isn’t really the point. The lawsuit doesn’t allege that the College Board is sloppy with data collection or this stuff is being used for identity theft. The lawsuit suggests that the organizations just shouldn’t be selling personal information at all.
Still, it’s not really clear how the Cook County woman has been hurt by this financial transaction. From her perspective all that it means is that a bunch of colleges send her mailings. How is this worth $5 million in “damages”?