SAT Test Owner Should Delete Data After Time, Markey Says

The College Board, owner of the SAT entrance exam, and rival ACT Inc. should consider deleting student data after a period of time to help protect the privacy of teenagers, U.S. Representative Ed Markey said.

Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, made the remarks in a joint statement today with Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, after reviewing the nonprofit testing companies’ responses to questions on how they collect and store data from millions of teens who take their college entrance exams.

The College Board and ACT gather data from high school students when they register for SAT and ACT tests, then sell the names and personal information to colleges, which use them in marketing to potential applicants. Some 1,100 schools use the College Board’s service, which lets them search on criteria such as test scores, ethnicity and religion. While students opt in or out of the service, they aren’t told their information will be sold and their parents aren’t asked for permission.

“Improvements in data stewardship should be made, including deletion of student data after a reasonable period of time to reduce the risk of breach,” Markey said.

Markey and Barton introduced a bill in May to bolster teen privacy laws.

The New York-based College Board’s service is voluntary and made available to students who “want to explore their options and introduce themselves to colleges and universities,” College Board Vice President Laurence Bunin said June 14, responding to a May 27 letter sent by the congressmen. The letter included 12 groups of questions, such as the security of their data storage, the sale of information and who is buying the data.

A similar letter was sent to Iowa City, Iowa-based ACT.

More Questions

“While the intentions behind these initiatives are good, I am left with a few more questions on the exact methods used by these organizations to protect student data,” Barton said today in a statement. He didn’t specify what he planned to ask.

Kathleen Steinberg, a spokeswoman for the College Board, said today that the company would continue an “open dialogue” with the congressmen.

“Protecting the privacy and security of the students who participate in College Board programs has always been a top priority for our organization,” Steinberg said in an e-mail.

Ed Colby, a spokesman for ACT, declined to comment.

Name-Selling Revenue

In their June responses, both companies said they give for-profit entities limited use of their name-selling services if they meet eligibility requirements, according to their responses. The College Board and ACT, which charge colleges 33 cents a name, said they use revenue from their search services partly to offer test and other fee waivers for low-income students.

The College Board had $63 million in revenue from its business that includes name-selling, about 10 percent of total sales, in the year ended June 2010, according to a tax filing. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, $53 million was provided in fee waivers or subsidies to low-income students, the company said.

ACT took in $7.5 million in revenue from its Educational Opportunity Service in the year ended August 2010, according to the company. It had revenue of $274 million that year, according to a tax filing. ACT granted more than $24 million in fee waivers last year, according to the company.

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