For Sale: Survey Data on Millions of High School Students

Natasha Singer:

Three thousand high school students from across the United States recently trekked to a university sports arena here to attend an event with an impressive-sounding name: the Congress of Future Science and Technology Leaders. Many of their parents had spent $985 on tuition.

Months earlier, the teenagers had received letters, signed by a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, congratulating them on being nominated for “a highly selective national program honoring academically superior high school students.”

The students all had good grades. But many of them were selected for the event because they had once filled out surveys that they believed would help them learn about colleges and college scholarships.

Through their schools, many students in the audience had taken a college-planning questionnaire, called MyCollegeOptions. Others had taken surveys that came with the SAT or the PSAT, tests administered by the College Board. In filling out those surveys, the teenagers ended up signing away personal details that were later sold and shared with the future scientists event.