NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

In Data Collection, It's Parents' Rights Vs. Marketers

December 19, 2001

Should marketers be allowed to collect personal information from school children without their parents' consent? Many parents and lawmakers say no -- and a provision governing that relationship is included in education reform legislation approved by the House last week and approved by the Senate Tuesday.

A provision sponsored by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) 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.

Businesses for years have collected data about students and their families, often without parents' knowledge, in exchange for funds and other forms of aid to cooperative schools.

  • For example, 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 college.
  • Among ASL's offerings is information about students' religious affiliations.
  • "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 online literature.

In the debate, the industry has had the support of the National School Boards Association, whose members want the benefits to schools that marketing surveys bring.

But consumer advocates and parents' groups warn that marketers are taking advantage of children's information. And a spokesman for Consumers Union -- the advocacy group that publishes Consumer Reports magazine -- argues that "schools should be about learning, not information-collection centers for commercial marketers."

Source: Robert O'Harrow Jr., "Marketers May Face Student-Data Curbs," Washington Post, December 18, 2001.


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