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Congress Restricts Corporations Extracting Personal Information from Students

(2nd article: Marketers May Face Student-Data Curbs)

Commercial Alert December 18, 2001

Victory: Congress is expected to approve a provision today to require
parental notification before a corporation can extract personal
information from a child in school. In addition, parents will be able to
opt out of any such data collection in the schools.

Many thanks to those who worked hard to protect school children from
privacy invasion. We couldn't have won without you.

Following is an article in today's Washington Post.

Marketers May Face Student-Data Curbs
by Robert O'Harrow Jr.

Congress is on the verge of giving parents the right to say no when
marketers want to gather personal information about students in schools.

Businesses for years have collected data about students and their
families, often without parents' knowledge. A company in New Jersey
asked students to fill out detailed questionnaires about what they like
on television.

A technology marketer traded computers and Internet access in exchange
for the right to track what students did online. One list broker has
compiled information about millions of students, from kindergarten on.
Students have offered suggestions to Internet companies, and they've
taste-tested cereals in exchange for fees to schools.

"They're basically selling access to kids without parents knowing about
it," said Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), who joined Sen. Christopher
J. Dodd (D-Conn.) in pressing for the change. "I don't think it's okay,"
Dodd said, adding that parents should have a voice. "These companies
were using the classroom for market research."

Their provision would require all public schools to notify parents when
businesses want to gather students' personal information and give the
parents the right to say no. It is part of sweeping education reform
legislation approved by the House last week and set for a vote by the
Senate today.

The Bush administration has already signaled its support for the larger
bill and the privacy section.

The vote follows months of debate about the role of commercial activity
in the nation's schools. Consumer advocates and parents groups warned
that marketers were taking advantage of children's information.
Conservative groups supported the law in part as a way of bolstering
parents' rights.

"The schools should be about learning, not to be information-collection
centers for commercial marketers," said Frank Torres, legislative
counsel for Consumers Union, the advocacy group that publishes Consumer
Reports magazine.

School districts across the country increasingly rely on business deals
to bring in much-needed cash in exchange for allowing advertising and
market research, as well as direct sales of products such as soft drinks
and candy.

Advertisers and magazine publishers successfully battled to tone down
the proposal earlier this year. They persuaded lawmakers to drop a
provision requiring that parents give their permission before any
information could be gathered for commercial purposes.

The businesses worried the stronger rule would have cut them off from
schools that allow students to sell subscriptions to classmates to raise
money and other sorts of promotions that often involve the collection of
names, addresses and other personally identifiable information.

The National School Boards Association also fought hard against the
privacy provision, saying the law could become an "administrative
nightmare" that would hurt "productive relationships with businesses" at
a time when school budgets are tight.

Jeffrey Ballabon, vice president of public policy at Primedia, a
magazine publisher, said "a substantial amount of fundraising is done
through schools. That is a substantial source of revenue."

American Student List, a leading list broker, gathers student
information from a variety of sources, including a group that promises
to help high school students who fill out detailed surveys to get into

Among the American Student List offerings is information about students'
religious affiliations. The company maintains a database "of over 4
million individuals between the ages of 14 and 19," according to its Web

They also target younger kids, including toddlers. "To help you reach
this highly lucrative market, ASL has compiled over 12 million names of
children between the ages of 2 and 13, representing Pre-K through 8th
grade," the company says in its literature online.

Company officials did not return phone calls.

Other companies gathered student information by providing computers and
Internet access in exchange for names and online browsing habits. The
former ZapMe Corp., for example, gave schools across the country free
computers, software and services for the right to record how students
used the technology.

Daniel Fuller, a lobbyists for the association of school boards, said
local school officials should have the right to make their own decisions
about dealing with marketers. "The compromise they came up with is not
great, but it's better," Fuller said.

Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert, a group that
opposes commercialism in schools, also was not entirely pleased with the
outcome. But he said it's "a good small step forward."
<----article ends here---->

To read the text of the privacy provision, see:

Commercial Alert's mission is to keep the commercial culture within its
proper sphere, and to prevent it from exploiting children and subverting
the higher values of family, community, environmental integrity and
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