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Attorney General Ellen F. Rosenblum

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AG MYERS ANNOUNCES AGREEMENT WITH ERCA TO END DECEPTIVE TACTICS IN GATHERING PERSONAL INFORMATION FROM STUDENTS

October 30, 2008

Attorney General Hardy Myers Files Agreement With NJ Research Company To End Misleading Tactics Used To Gather Personal Information Of Oregon High School Students

States allege company used gift cards to induce educators to collect personal information from students, while failing to disclose how students and parents could protect their privacy

Attorney General Hardy Myers today announced the filing of an agreement with a New Jersey research company ending its misleading practices of using surveys to obtain and sell high school students' personal information without informing those students of how they can protect their privacy. Oregon joined 35 other state Attorneys General and the District of Columbia in the settlement with the Educational Research Center of America, Inc. (ERCA), a not-for-profit corporation headquartered in Morristown, NJ. The Assurance of Voluntary Compliance (AVC) agreement, which admits no violation of law, was filed in the Marion County Circuit Court.

"Surveys were distributed to high school and junior high students asking them their ethnic background, honors they had received, which sports or activities they were involved in, what type religious affiliation would they look for in a college and other information. ERCA marketed and provided the information to colleges and other educational institutions but also to commercial businesses that market products and services to students," said Myers. "Such commercial use of the information was actually disclosed to educators and students but how to opt out of such marketing was not. Today's agreement provides students and parents with the tools to protect their privacy."

According to the states' investigators, 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. ERCA received hundreds of thousands of surveys completed by students. Student information obtained by ERCA had been marketed and provided to colleges and other educational institutions, but also to commercial businesses that market products and services to students.

Under the agreement with the states, ERCA must clearly disclose how students or parents of students under the age of 18 can opt not to complete 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, the states noted, because information gathered by ERCA from students sometimes is sold for commercial marketing purposes.

As part of the Assurance of Voluntary Compliance (AVC), ERCA will pay $200,000 to the states for investigative costs, attorney fees and consumer education and litigation.

Contact:

Jan Margosian, (503) 947-4333 (media line only) jan.margosian@doj.state.or.us |
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