‘Impenetrable’ World of Student Data Brokers a Major Concern, Study Says
The K-12 world is subject to a murky marketplace of commercial data brokers who traffic in sensitive information involving students’ “ethnicity, affluence, religion, lifestyle, awkwardness, and even a perceived need for family planning,” according to a new report released today by the Center on Law and Information Policy at Fordham Law School.
“Even knowledgeable and motivated parents are unable to know much of anything about who is dealing in their personal information, and what they’re doing with it,” said Cameron Russell, the center’s executive director, in an interview.
The report is titled “Transparency and the Marketplace for Student Data.” It relies on a narrow slice of data collection, with 10 high school students from three school districts in New Jersey, New York, and Vermont asked to collect the commercial solicitations they received during 10 to 14 day windows in 2014, 2015, and 2016.
The researchers behind the study also reviewed publicly available information; submitted public records requests to school districts as part of an effort to gauge whether they had provided student information to data brokers; and sought to independently identify the sources of the commercial solicitations that students received.
All told, the researchers found that the students collected 232 such solicitations. More than 90 percent of those were related to college, education funding and financial aid, and military recruitment—uses generally seen as acceptable.
The other 20 solicitations, however, were for non-educational purposes, coming from an insurance company, a lacrosse camp, a company advertising a treatment to dissolve toenail fungus, a company marketing trips to Niagara Falls, the online language-learning company Rosetta Stone, apparel company Under Armour, and more.
Data on students is supposed to receive extra legal protection. But the CLIP study says existing privacy laws generally don’t cover the activities of data brokers dealing in student information.