College Board cozies up to Big expense of students, report finds

One student expressed to Campus Reform concern over lost trust and privacy.

The College Board allegedly sent student information to multiple companies in direct violation of its own policies.

The College Board sent personal information to multiple third-party vendors, including Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, according to a study from Consumer Reports.

The usernames and site data of students were shared with other companies, even after the College Board, which administers the SAT, promised not to share that information, the consumer watchdog website reported. The report found that the College Board shared specific personal information, usernames, and data with third-party companies. 

The process to share this data was allegedly done via embedded cookies that allow websites to monitor traffic.

In a Student Privacy Pledge, the College Board promised to “not collect, maintain, use or share student personal information beyond that needed for authorized educational/school purposes,” and “not use or disclose student information... for behavioral targeting of advertisements to students.”

[Related: SAT test maker touts ties with Chinese Communist Party-funded Confucius Institutes]

According to the study, advertisers used data sent by the College Board to create targeted ads based on information contained on the College Board's registration- such as location, school interests, and even test registrations.

To test if College Board was sharing student information to third-party vendors, Consumer Reports created three fake student accounts on the College Board website. After the sign-up process was complete, "the College Board sent the username and a unique ID number to Adobe, AdMedia, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Snapchat, and Yahoo," according to the report.

According to Consumer Reports, when visiting other websites, it found ads containing cookies that companies like Yahoo and Google had placed on the College Board website "including ads for Grammarly, Zenni Optical, the supermarket chain Grocery Outlet, and Cashay."

As the SAT and other College Board tests are often required by many colleges, students raised concerns over privacy violations.

Consumer Reports said it went through a "series of questions about our findings to the College Board" but "not all were addressed."

“Like other not-for-profit organizations, we use certain third-party platforms to share information with students," the company said in an emailed statement to Consumer Reports. "The data we share with third-party platforms is encrypted and hashed, and is used by those platforms to deliver our messages to our users. We are not paid by any of those platforms.”

[RELATED: Colleges nationwide suspend ACT/SAT admissions requirements]

After reaching out to College Board, Consumer Reports ran the tests again and found that the group had stopped sharing "usernames and unique ID numbers with most of the tech companies," with the exception of Adobe, but Bill Fitzgerald, the privacy researcher who conducted the tests for Consumer Reports, said that the College Board response doesn't change the issue with privacy.

“The College Board's change is good, but it isn’t substantial, and as long as they’re sharing usernames with anyone, it seems they’re violating their privacy policy,” Fitzgerald said, according to Consumer Reports

“And even if they fixed that, they’d still be sharing sensitive information about student activity with third parties," he added.

[Related: College Board scraps plan for online SAT after disastrous online AP exams]

Humboldt State University College Republicans President Sam Dorsey told Campus Reform that the report makes clear that the College Board is violating students' privacy.

“The College Board is the first interaction most students have on their college journey,” Dorsey said. “It administers and has access to the data of thousands and thousands of prospective college students and thousands and thousands of high school students. Selling students' data without their consent, especially after stating that the College Board will not do so, is morally bankrupt and a violation of students' privacy and trust. This kind of thing is all too common in academia and it needs to stop immediately.”

Campus Reform reached out to College Board but did not receive a response in time for publication. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Arik_Schneider