A New Jersey data broker that collects and sells personal information about consumers told regulators that it did not knowingly possess data on minors, even as it advertised a mailing list of more than a million high school students for sale on its website.
ALC Inc., a Princeton-based company, failed to acknowledge the possession of data on minors as required to comply with a Vermont law, the first of its kind in the country.
The Vermont law seeks to shed light on a multibillion dollar market populated by such companies as ALC that collect and sell personal information about millions of consumers. The information they sell could include names, addresses, hobbies, and income data. These companies don't have a direct relationship with consumers, who are often unaware that their information is being sold and have no say in how it is used.
ALC registered as a data broker in Vermont in January to comply with the law enacted after the massive Equifax data breach that exposed the personal information on 145 million Americans. Among other provisions, the new law required data brokers to disclose whether they knowingly possess data on people under age 18.
On its registration form with Vermont, ALC declared it "has no knowledge nor do we allow the collection or use of data on any persons under the age of 18." The form was dated Jan. 31.
But the company explicitly offered to sell data on 1.2 million students aged 14 to 17, including their names, addresses, high schools, and hobbies, according to an advertisement on its website. The firm also offered parents' names, household incomes, and ethnicity, among other information. The starting price for the data was $100 per thousand records.
If ALC is found to have flouted Vermont's law, the New Jersey company could have the unique distinction of being the first firm to violate the nation's first data broker law.
Failure or fraudulent?
The advertisement, which was taken off ALC's website after The Inquirer asked about it, said the student list was last updated Dec. 20, 2018 -- six weeks before the company told Vermont officials that it did not knowingly possess data on children.
"Ether they've filed a false declaration with the state or their advertising to the industry is fraudulent. One or the other is not true," said Joel Reidenberg, a Fordham University law professor who co-authored a report on the opaque student data broker industry.