Campus Reform | As colleges continue online learning, proctoring becomes a privacy issue

As colleges continue online learning, proctoring becomes a privacy issue

Colleges and universities across the country have utilized online proctoring services to ensure students are not cheating.

However, some software has raised major privacy concerns.

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Colleges are utilizing new software that can access students' webcams and microphones in efforts to prevent cheating. One proctor company used to prevent students from cheating has already experienced a massive security breach in which thousands of students' personal information were made public.

Due to the large numbers of schools switching from in-person to online classes because of COVID-19, schools are looking for different ways to prevent cheating. Companies such as ProctorU and Proctorio are being utilized by universities and schools at a significantly higher rate, raising more concerns regarding students' privacy.

ProctorU can access and record a student’s computer screen and webcam during tests to make sure students aren’t cheating. The company also offers “highly-trained live proctors” to “monitor test-takers” during tests. Artificial Intelligence is also used to monitor and catch any suspicious behavior such as the student constantly looking away from the computer screen, or lighting changes.

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According to an article from The Washington Post, one student who was sick had to ask the person monitoring the test if she could vomit. Due to strict rules, students weren’t allowed any bathroom breaks even during their two-hour test. The live proctors can also ask students to prove their honesty by moving their cameras around the room.

Another student claimed that while taking her test the live proctor was moving her mouse which caused her to be distracted during the exam, according to Teen Vogue.

Consumer Reports researcher Bill Fitzgerald stated, “To take a test you need to let a stranger have a video recording of your room? Are you kidding me? These platforms exist because they are selling a narrative that students can’t be trusted."

“The people who have the most to lose here are the students, and they’re the farthest away from the decision. Students are paying tens of thousands of dollars to have their higher-ed institutions sell them out.”

According to CNET, Google is also being scrutinized for allegedly invading student’s privacy, including collecting face scans and voiceprints when using the education apps. The collection of this information has led to a lawsuit against Google, stating that they are violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

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Students at various universities have signed petitions requesting their schools stop using the proctoring services. They claim that these systems present a lot of other concerns including the possibility that it “negatively impacts people who have ADHD-like symptoms.”

A major ProctorU security breach that occurred in July is also causing students and parents to be concerned about their safety and privacy. The information of 444,000 students was reportedly leaked and published on forums for online hackers, which included names, passwords, phone numbers, as well as home and email addresses.

Some colleges have published statements addressing the growing concerns regarding the use of online proctors. Washington State University posted a statement saying it is aware of the security breach from ProctorU but feels that it is still safe to use.

Students at various universities across the country have even started petitions to stop the use of the online proctors. Students from the University of Texas at Dallas, Florida International University, and California State University-Fullerton, have all started petitions ranging from 5,400 signatures to 7,500 signatures.

University of North Carolina-Greensboro Professor of Management Nir Kshetri, who has written about these online proctors, told Campus Reform that the proctoring systems are part of a changing landscape in online learning.

“Online learning is the future but how it takes place can be changed and is likely to be changed," Kshetri said.

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“Students, parents, and digital privacy advocates are already providing pressures to schools, universities, and technology platforms to be more accountable and use software that is not too privacy-invasive. I hope in the future technology platforms collect personal data only if such data are needed to enhance the learning experience and they will strengthen their cybersecurity practices so that students’ personal data are not leaked," Kshetri said.

Kshetri also states that he hopes schools will give a high priority to the privacy practices of these platforms. He adds that the artificial intelligence for these services needs to be able to accurately depict cheating patterns and not students who have repetitive behaviors.

“When they are trained with a large number of pictures and videos of cheating behaviors, they can more accurately predict cheating in exams and do not incorrectly flag body-focused repetitive behaviors such as trichotillomania, chronic tic disorder, and other health disorders as cheating.”

Campus Reform has reached out to ProctorU, Fitzgerald, and Google for comment but hasn't received any responses.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @mn_turn