Company Agrees to Safeguards for Student Information
States alleged company offered gift cards to educators for distributing student surveys, and collected student personal information in surveys, but failed to disclose to students and parents how to opt out of sharing the personal information.
October 30, 2008
A New Jersey company called Educational Research Center of America, Inc., or ERCA, must tighten up its practices for obtaining and handling personal information it collects from high school student surveys, under an agreement ERCA has reached with the Attorneys General of 36 states and the District of Columbia.
The Attorneys General said ERCA surveys ask high school and junior high students to provide information such as their ethnic background, honors won, participation in sports and extracurricular activities, the religious affiliation of a college they would choose, if any, and other information.
ERCA offered educators $40 and $50 gift cards from companies including Staples, VISA, and Office Max in an attempt to entice educators to have students complete surveys, the states said, and ERCA received hundreds of thousands of surveys completed by students.
Student information obtained by ERCA has been marketed and provided to colleges and other educational institutions, but also to commercial businesses that market products and services to students. Such commercial use of the information was disclosed to educators and students, but how to opt out of such marketing was not disclosed to students or to parents of students under 18.
Under the agreement with the states, ERCA must clearly disclose how students or parents of students under 18 can opt out of students completing the survey, and ERCA must not offer anything of monetary value to educators relating to collection of personal information from students. Such practices are especially important, the states said, because information gathered by ERCA from students sometimes is sold for commercial marketing purposes.
ERCA is a not-for-profit corporation with headquarters in Morristown, NJ. The company did not admit any violations of state consumer protection statutes. As part of the "Assurance of Voluntary Compliance," ERCA also will pay $200,000 to the states for investigative costs, attorney fees, and consumer education and litigation.
The Attorneys General of 36 states and the District of Columbia joined in the settlement with ERCA: AL, AK, AZ, CT, DE, HI, IL, IN, IA, LA, ME, MD, MI, MS, MT, NE, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, VT, VA, WA, WV, WY, and DC.
For questions about the agreement, please contact Assistant Attorney General Julia Coster at (907) 269-5200.
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