Tutor.com faces Senate scrutiny over privacy concerns

May 24, 2024
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Multiple government officials have placed Tutor.com under fire because of concerns about its Chinese parent company.

Photo illustration by Justin Morrison/Inside Higher Ed | Chotika/rawpixel | Carol M. Highsmith/Library of Congress | tutor.com

A Republican senator launched an inquiry into Tutor.com on Thursday, citing data privacy concerns about the Chinese-owned company that works with K-12 schools and several higher education institutions.

Tutor.com is owned by Primavera Capital Group, a Chinese investment firm that also invested in ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, which has been heavily scrutinized for ties to the Chinese government. In April, President Biden signed a law that would ban TikTok in the U.S. if the company doesn’t find a new owner within the year.

Expanding the scrutiny on Chinese-owned companies, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions is now investigating “federally funded arrangements with Tutor.com in order to assess any and all threats they pose to students’ online safety and privacy,” Senator Bill Cassidy wrote in a letter to former Tutor.com CEO Joshua Hyoung-Jun Park (the company’s current CEO is Bob Batten).

The Louisiana Republican wrote that the arrangements “raise highly significant student data privacy concerns because Chinese law requires companies based in China to ‘support, assist, and cooperate with state intelligence work,’ meaning that a company can be compelled to share information with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) if asked to do so.”

Tutor.com defended itself in a statement to Inside Higher Ed, saying it “employs extensive safeguards and enforcement mechanisms to ensure that U.S. students’ data cannot and will not, under any circumstances, ever be shared with China or any foreign entity.”

“We uphold the highest standards of transparency and data security—and we comply with U.S. federal and state requirements regarding student data,” the company said, adding that a U.S. government review in April 2023 found no national security concerns.

Only two months ago, Republican senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Representative Elise Stefanik, Republican from New York, called for the Defense Department to ban Tutor.com by introducing the “Ban Chinese Communist Party Access to U.S. Military Students Act.” There has been no action on the legislation since. 

Tutor.com parent Primavera also owns The Princeton Review, having acquired it in 2022 along with Tutor.com. Tutor.com markets itself on its website as “a service of The Princeton Review.” 

Cassidy’s letter did not mention The Princeton Review. That company did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

While Cassidy’s letter focused on Tutor.com’s contracts with libraries, K-12 schools and the U.S. military, the company also has higher education clients, including Texas A&M University, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Abilene Christian College. It also works with the Defense Department and the Coast Guard Mutual Assistance Program. 

According to Tutor.com’s website, interactions between tutors and students are recorded, and those recordings are kept to review and retain high standards. The website further states the company has a commitment to data privacy, abiding by U.S. state and federal laws, and it has a data security officer vetted by the U.S. government.

Cassidy called the website statements “veiled assurances” and requested that Tutor.com take 11 actions by June 11. Those include providing: 

  • A list of state and local educational agencies and libraries that have signed agreements, along with the relevant contracts
  • A list of Tutor.com’s leadership team and descriptions of relationship and interactions with the Primavera Capital Group and Primavera Holdings Limited
  • An explanation of how the company stores student data and the names and locations of the parties who have access to that data
  • A detailed description of all policies relating to Tutor.com’s “recorded classroom environment,” including who reviews the recordings and how the recordings are stored



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