The College Board Is Sharing Student Data Once Again

After we contacted the College Board with our findings, the company made some tweaks to its site, but the underlying problem remains. “The data sharing we observed would allow for a broad range of profiling,” says Bill Fitzgerald, the privacy researcher who conducted the tests for the Consumer Reports Digital Lab.

Once student data is passed to third parties, he notes, it’s more likely to be used for purposes that don’t reflect a pupil’s best interests.

“The risk starts when the data are shared,” he says.

According to Fitzgerald and other experts on student privacy, there's a whole industry that extracts value from student data. You'll find companies that market tutoring and test prep services, and companies that promote long-odds scholarship contests where personal information is the cost of entry. The data can be used to pitch predatory student loans and credit card offers, and to push students to apply to colleges they have no chance of getting into in a bid to drive down admittance rates and drive up application fees.

Parents we spoke to said they’ve come to expect pervasive data collection on the internet, but they were still surprised to find the College Board exposing their children to the digital ad ecosystem.

“Part of me views this as par for the course, knowing a little bit about how these companies operate,” says Brett Ashton, a parent from San Jose, Calif., whose daughter—an incoming freshman at Atlanta’s Spelman College—spent the past few years navigating the College Board’s services. “I underestimated how much the data operation is core to what the College Board is doing.”
“I don’t think it’s what I signed up for,” Ashton says. “I certainly don’t like the thought that it’s being used to sell stuff to us that may not even be college-related.”

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