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Republican Senator Launches Inquiry into Tutor.com Over Data Privacy Concerns

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In a recent development, Republican Senator Bill Cassidy has launched an inquiry into Tutor.com, a popular online tutoring service, citing data privacy concerns. The investigation comes amid growing scrutiny over the company's Chinese ownership and its potential implications for student data security.

Republican Senator Launches Inquiry into Tutor.com Over Data Privacy Concerns

(Photo : WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / Gage Skidmore)

Chinese Ownership Raises Alarms

Tutor.com, owned by Primavera Capital Group, a Chinese investment firm, has come under fire due to its association with ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok. ByteDance has faced intense scrutiny over its ties to the Chinese government, prompting concerns that user data could be compromised. In April, President Biden signed a law indicating that TikTok would be prohibited in the U.S. if it did not secure a new owner within the year, highlighting the government's worries regarding Chinese-owned technology firms.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, led by Senator Cassidy, is now investigating federally funded arrangements with Tutor.com. The goal is to assess any threats they pose to students' online safety and privacy. Cassidy's letter to former Tutor.com CEO Joshua Hyoung-Jun Park highlights the senator's concerns about the potential for student data to be shared with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) under Chinese law.

READ MORE: Chinese Universities Rising In Global Rankings, Challenging US Ivy League Dominance 

Tutor.com's Defense and Government Review

Tutor.com has defended its data privacy practices, stating that it employs extensive safeguards to ensure that U.S. students' data cannot and will not be shared with China or any foreign entity. The company also emphasized its compliance with U.S. federal and state requirements regarding student data. A U.S. government review conducted in April 2023 found no national security concerns related to Tutor.com.

However, Senator Cassidy remains skeptical of Tutor.com's assurances, calling them "veiled" and requesting the company to take 11 specific actions by June 11. These actions include providing a list of state and local educational agencies and libraries that have signed agreements with Tutor.com, details on how student data is stored, and explanations of policies relating to Tutor.com's recorded classroom environment.

Implications for Higher Education and Beyond

Although Cassidy's letter primarily addressed Tutor.com's agreements with libraries, K-12 schools, and the U.S. military, the company also provides services to higher education institutions such as Texas A&M University, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and Abilene Christian College. Additionally, Tutor.com collaborates with the Defense Department and the Coast Guard Mutual Assistance Program. The investigation's findings could have far-reaching implications for these institutions and others that use Tutor.com's services.

In response to previous calls for action, Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Representative Elise Stefanik of New York introduced legislation to ban Tutor.com from working with U.S. military students. The "Ban Chinese Communist Party Access to U.S. Military Students Act" has yet to see any legislative action.

The scrutiny over Tutor.com's data privacy practices also extends to its parent company, Primavera Capital Group, which acquired The Princeton Review along with Tutor.com in 2022. While Cassidy's letter did not mention The Princeton Review, its association with Tutor.com raises additional questions about data privacy and security.

As Senator Cassidy's investigation into Tutor.com unfolds, the broader implications for student data privacy and the role of Chinese-owned companies in U.S. education remain at the forefront. The outcome of this inquiry could have significant implications for how educational institutions and policymakers approach partnerships with tech companies, especially those with ties to foreign governments.

RELATED ARTICLE: Chinese Students Overseas Fear Surveillance, Harassment By Beijing 

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