A group of U.S. senators has sent a letter demanding information from the nation’s leading educational publishers regarding their collection and use of student data via their digital products.

In an August 12 letter, senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) raised concerns that “the learning tools” used by education publishers today “could pose a serious risk to students, parents, and educational institutions as a result of the potential for massive amounts of personal information to be stolen, collected, or sold without their permission or knowledge.”

The letter requests detailed information on a number of general topics and data policies, and comes after a 2018 FBI announcement warned of the potential “malicious use of data” collected by the education industry. Responses are requested by September 3.

“From academic performance data and web histories, to location data and other personally identifiable information such as date of birth, or address, it is imperative that we take steps to ensure student data is being secured and protected. Parents, students, and educational institutions deserve to have more control over their data,” the senators wrote.

The senators also sent a letter to a number of social media and other digital businesses, including Google, Facebook, as well as various “data brokers” in the education sector, asking for more information on their collection of student data, and expressing similar concerns.

“We encourage you to adopt a comprehensive data privacy policy that ensures your company is directly obtaining informed consent from parents and students," the letters urge, "and allows parents and students to fully delete any data retained by your company.”

"The potential challenges would be exacerbated by concentrating the student data market into fewer hands.”

The senators' queries and concerns also come as opposition mounts to a proposed merger by leading educational publishers Cengage and McGraw-Hill, which has raised concerns about data collection.

In a recent post detailing its opposition to the merger, SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) specifically raised the issue of student data and privacy.

“As the recently launched Department of Justice investigation into Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon highlights, monopolistic activities can relate not just to dollars and cents, but also to data,” SPARC officials wrote. “While the issues raised by data and analytics in academic publishing are critical with or without the merger, the potential challenges would be exacerbated by concentrating the student data market into fewer hands.”

Among the many companies that received the letter were Macmillan, McGraw-Hill, Kaplan, Wiley Education, Pearson, Turnitin, Cengage, and Barnes and Noble Education, to name a few.

The full text of the letter to educational technology companies is available here. Full text of the letter to data brokers is available here.