SHOULD SCHOOLS ALLOW COMPANIES INTO THE CLASSROOM TO COLLECT PERSONAL INFORMATION FROM CHILDREN?

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Tuesday, April 4, 2000
Contact: Frank Torres/David Butler (202) 462-6262

SHOULD SCHOOLS ALLOW COMPANIES INTO THE CLASSROOM
TO COLLECT PERSONAL INFORMATION FROM CHILDREN?

Congress considers law to require parental consent for market research in schools

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Companies are being allowed into America’s classrooms to collect personal information from students so the companies can learn the best ways to market their products to children:

  • Children in a Massachusetts elementary school spent two days tasting cereal and answering an opinion poll to help the company sell to kids.
  • Children in a New Jersey elementary school filled out a 27-page booklet called “My All About Me Journal” as part of a marketing survey for a cable television channel.
  • A California company provides schools with free computers, software, and access to certain web sites. In exchange, the company has reserved the right to monitor students’ web browsing habits and sell the data to other companies in the future.

Consumers Union (CU), the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, believes that parents need to be better informed about marketing practices in schools. That is why CU supports the Student Privacy Protection Act, a bill in Congress that would require parents to give informed consent before companies can collect information on their children in school. It also calls for the Comptroller General to conduct a national study on the prevalence and effect of commercial activity in schools.
“A classroom should be a place for children to learn, not a place for companies to learn how to market to kids,” said Frank Torres, legislative counsel for Consumers Union.
The bill is needed to close loopholes in current school privacy laws. Existing laws protect official records and federally funded research, but they don’t prohibit companies from getting information directly from students without the consent of their parents.
Parents should decide whether their kids participate in market research in school after asking tough questions: What type of information will be collected? How will it be used? Will it be sold to third parties? How much class time will be used?
The Student Privacy Protection Act was introduced by Rep. George Miller of California and Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut. The House bill number is H.R. 1734 and the Senate bill number is S. 1422.
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For more information, read the CU reports “Selling America’s Kids” and “Captive Kids” online and the report “Cashing In On Kids” by the Center for the Analysis of Commercialism in Education at www.uwm.edu/Dept/CACE/documents/cashinginonkids.html.