Test-prep company Princeton Review and online tutoring platform Tutor.com have been sold to Chinese private-equity firm Primavera Capital Group, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Based in Hong Kong, the company discreetly purchased the prominent brands from Korean education company ST Unitas in January 2022, as Chinese investments in the United States were attracting greater scrutiny.
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CIFUS), a federal panel within the Treasury Department that analyzes acquisition plans by foreign investors for national security concerns, sometimes reviews technology and infrastructure investments, or ones where large amounts of personal data are involved.
Reviews are confidential and a spokeswoman for the Treasury Department told the Journal that the committee does not comment publicly on transactions that it may or may not have reviewed.
The panel “is committed to taking all necessary actions within its authority to safeguard U.S. national security,” she said.
Free for U.S. military service members, Defense Department employees and their dependents under a longtime contract, Tutor.com also holds contracts with school districts across the country to provide online homework help and subject-matter tutoring.
Elly Rostoum, a former U.S. intelligence analyst and lecturer at Johns Hopkins University, told the Journal that the federal government is paying more attention to Chinese investments in the U.S. as its relationship with the communist nation sours.
“There’s reason for that hype,” she said. “There’s reason for the U.S. to be worried about those transactions.”
Chinese national security laws have been interpreted by the U.S. government to mean that any organization based there can be compelled to disclose information with the Chinese Communist Party if requested.
CIFUS has ramped up its oversight, within the past few years, of foreign companies with data, tech and infrastructure interests and the panel can review deals both before and after they close, as well as push for mitigation measures if any national security red flags are spotted.
Though the deal closed without much publicity, Princeton Review, Tutor.com and Primavera told the Journal they weren’t concealing the transaction and filed the required notifications in the publicly-accessible federal contracting system last year.
Tutor.com reportedly collects data on both tutors and those being tutored, including their names, home addresses and IP addresses. It also records their sessions.
In a statement to the Journal, Princeton Review and Tutor.com said, “Our commitment to safeguarding student privacy endures.” They said no student or school data is shared with Primavera and their internal systems cannot be accessed by the Chinese firm.
Primavera told the newspaper that approval for its acquisition of both brands had been granted as of early May, without specifying what agency had approved the deal.
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