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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
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No Harm, No Foul in Student Info Sales

CHICAGO (CN) - College-bound students cannot show that the ACT and College Board harmed them by supposedly selling their personal information, the Seventh Circuit ruled.

ACT and the College Board administer the ACT and SAT tests to more than 1.6 million high school students each year, the complaint said. For college-bound students, taking the ACT or SAT is not optional.

Lead plaintiff Rachel Spector said the ACT and the College Board profit off college-bound students by collecting their names, addresses, educational background, emails, and ethnic background, and selling them to educational organizations. Spector also claimed the ACT sells students' Social Security numbers and test scores, but the ACT denies sharing this information.

"The defendants deceived the plaintiff and the class by masking the sale of the plaintiff and class' personal identifying information under the guise of 'sharing,' i.e., the defendants ask whether the plaintiff and class (who at the time were under the age of majority) would like their personal identifying information 'shared' with other outside agencies," the complaint said. "In reality, the defendants 'sell' the plaintiff's and class' information for substantial profit - on information and belief approximately $.33 per student, per buyer - to hundreds if not thousands of 'buyers' per year who purchase the plaintiff's and class' information from the defendants."

The ACT requires a student to affirmatively opt out of the sharing program, while the SAT's opt-in approach allegedly induces minor students to allow their information to be shared with third parties.

"The fact that SAT sells the plaintiff's and class' information to third parties for monetary gain is at no time disclosed to the plaintiff or class," Specter claimed.

But a federal judge dismissed the complaint for lack of standing, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed on Wednesday.

"A plaintiff's claim of injury in fact cannot be based solely on a defendant's gain; it must be based on a plaintiff's loss. Here, plaintiffs have not alleged that they lost anything of value as a result of the alleged misconduct," Circuit Judge Michael Kanne said, writing for the three-judge panel.

There is no dispute that the students consented to share their information with third parties, the panel found.

And even if defendants had not collected a fee from buyers, the information would have been conveyed in the same manner.

"The fact that defendants allegedly collected a fee from participating educational organizations and did not disclose this sale did not make plaintiffs worse off," Kanne said. "Moreover, we find it telling that plaintiffs actually benefited from participation in the information exchange programs, in contrast to their allegations of harm."

Without having suffered any injury, the students lack standing to pursue their claims.

The ACT declined to comment on the action, while College Board has not returned an email sent after business hours.

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