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The Admission Cookies

Washington Post illustration/iStock/University of Wisconsin-Stout Handout Photo (Washington Post illustration/iStock/University of Wisconsin-Stout Handout Photo)

College admissions websites are tracking the web habits of prospective applicants in order to determine which candidates are likely to accept an enrollment offer and be able to pay the tuition. Some privacy experts are concerned that these schools' data-handling practices could be violating federal law designed to protect student education records: "A map on this page showed her geographical location, and an “affinity index” estimated her level of interest in attending the school. Her score of 91 out of 100 predicted she was highly likely to accept an admission offer from UW-Stout, the records showed". (Fortune)

To learn more about prospective students, admissions officers at the University of Wisconsin-Stout turned to a little-known but increasingly common practice: They installed tracking software on their school website.

When one student visited the site last year, the software automatically recognized who she was based on a piece of code, called a cookie, which it had placed on her computer during a prior visit. The software sent an alert to the school’s assistant director of admissions containing the student’s name, contact information and details about her life and activities on the site, according to internal university records reviewed by The Washington Post. The email said she was a graduating high school senior in Little Chute, Wis., of Mexican descent who had applied to UW-Stout.