General Gansler Announces Agreement with Company to Safeguard
Alleges that Company offered educators gift cards for distributing
student surveys but failed to disclose how students could avoid
sharing personal information.
MD (October 30, 2008)-Attorney General Douglas F.
Gansler announced today that a New Jersey company called Educational
Research Center of America, Inc., or ERCA, has agreed to change
its practices for obtaining and handling personal information it
collects from high school student surveys, under an agreement reached
with the Attorneys General of 36 states and the District of Columbia.
Attorney General Gansler said ERCA surveys junior high and high
school students for information such as their ethnic background,
honors won, participation in sports and extracurricular activities,
the religious affiliation of a college they would choose, if any,
and other personal information. ERCA offered educators $40 and
$50 gift cards from companies including Staples, VISA, and Office
Max in an attempt to entice educators to have students complete
surveys, the states said, and ERCA received hundreds of thousands
of surveys completed by students.
ERCA has provided student information to colleges and other educational
institutions, but also marketed the information to commercial businesses
that market products and services to students. ERCA disclosed its
commercial use of the information, but did not disclose to students
or parents of students under 18 how to opt out of such marketing.
Under the agreement with the states, ERCA must clearly disclose
how students or parents of students under 18 can opt out of completing
the survey, and ERCA must not offer anything of monetary value
to educators relating to collection of personal information from
students. Such practices are especially important, Attorney General
Gansler said, because students and their parents need to be able
to avoid providing personal information for commercial marketing
ERCA is a not-for-profit
corporation with headquarters in Morristown, NJ. The company
did not admit any violations of state consumer
protection statutes. As part of the “Assurance of Discontinuance
/ Assurance of Voluntary Compliance,” ERCA also will pay
$200,000 to the states for investigative costs, attorney fees,
and consumer education and litigation.
In addition to Maryland, the settling jurisdictions are: AL,
AK, AZ, CT, DE, HI, IL, IN, IA, LA, ME, MI, MS, MT, NE, NV, NH,
NJ, NM, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, VT, VA, WA,
WV, WY, and DC.