Schools ditch invasive surveillance software after student backlash

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Aloha Sargent had known the exam monitoring company Proctorio for years. It was a frequent presence at the Online Education Conference (OTC), the premier event for distance learning educators in California. Many community colleges in the state, including Cabrillo College, where Sargent is the co-director of the library, had also started using the tool to monitor testing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But this year, when she received an email from OTC organizers in early February mentioning Proctorio as the conference diamond sponsor, she was shocked. The conference is hosted in part by the California Community College system and several of the member schools, including Cabrillo College, have decided not to renew their Proctorio software licenses in December.

The move came amid a nationwide barrage of complaints from students saying the software – which monitors applicants using their cameras and computer microphones, then uses artificial intelligence to measure their “anomalies.” – is discriminatory and a serious invasion of privacy.

Like other exam monitoring software vendors, Proctorio has famous the boom in its activity brought about by the pandemic. it hit new lucrative offers, oversaw more than 20 million exams in 2020 (triple the number in 2019, the company told Motherboard), and now boasts of serving more than 1,000 schools and organizations in 170 countries.

But that success has also attracted close scrutiny, and there are signs that the company’s technology and handling of reviews has tarnished its reputation. Some of the people most likely to use Proctorio after the pandemic – e-learning instructors – say the tool is harmful and not necessary to stop cheating. Schools and organizations, including some of its top clients, are also cutting ties and refusing to renew contracts.

The day after receiving the email from OTC, Sargent resigned from his position on the conference’s proposal review committee. A few days later, she and Maritez Apigo, professor of English at Contra Costa College, announcement on Twitter son which quickly went viral that they would boycott OTC over its sponsorship deal with Proctorio. February 23, OTC announcement that it had decided not to offer any sponsorship to exam supervisory companies following the backlash.

“We have to have these acts of refusal to use ed technology that are hurting students,” Sargent told Motherboard. “We had to refuse to participate and support anything with the sponsorship of Proctorio. It’s racist, it’s capacitist, it’s an invasion of privacy, it creates a culture of suspicion and it harms students.

In an emailed statement to Motherboard, Proctorio said it had “not been made aware of any instances of Proctorio software partner institutions perpetuating racial prejudice or hindering access to exams.”

But several media have documented students’ complaints on Proctorio, and since August, the Twitter account @Procteario retweeted students who say the software did not recognize them because of their complexion, that he reported them as cheaters due to exam anxiety, and that they cried through exams because of the additional pressure imposed by Proctorio’s oversight.

Days after Sargent and Apigo’s tweets, educators around the world began announcing their own boycotts. Lisa Marie Blaschke, distance teacher at the University of Oldenburg, withdrawn from an invitation deliver a speech at a conference in Berlin. Matt Crosslin, a researcher in learning innovations, announced that he not be present or attend the Innovate conference of the Online Learning Consortium due to its sponsorship agreements with Proctorio and other monitoring companies. And Phillip Dawson, a professor at Deakin University in Australia, said he no longer submit presentation proposals at a European conference on academic integrity because of Proctorio’s treatment of one of his harshest critics.

Educators dropping out of lectures might not be a fatal blow to Proctorio’s business, but campus activism is now driving colleges to ditch the software.

In January, the flagship University of Illinois campus announced it was shutting down Proctorio after the 2021 summer term, citing “significant accessibility issues.” In his statement, Proctorio disagreed with the assertion that the university was terminating his bachelor’s degree. Instead, the company said, Illinois had renewed its contract until September, the end of the summer 2021 term.

Other customers are leaving more quietly, which the company has either accidentally failed to recognize or deliberately misled.

Until February 23, Proctorio displayed the logos of 16 universities and companies on its home page under the title “Trusted by Top Organizations”.

Two of those organizations, Amazon and Louisiana State University, told Motherboard that they did not have institutional contracts with Proctorio. A third, Baylor University, publicly announced in August that he abandoned Proctorio in favor of a competitor. But Proctorio’s website continued to list Baylor as a customer. It also contained an alleged testimony, attributed to the university as a whole, stating, “I like Proctorio because I never have any issues and I think it’s a very user-friendly monitoring service.

Proctorio told Motherboard that Baylor University is still using its service, despite the university’s previous statement. Baylor University officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

After Motherboard began making inquiries with organizations listed as Proctorio customers, the company removed logos from Amazon, Baylor, Louisiana State University, Duke University, Texas Tech University, Kent State University and the University of Washington.

Proctorio told Motherboard that it regularly updates its websites with new customer logos and that it “was updated with new partners last week, long before we were contacted by Vice.” This assertion is false. Motherboard took a screenshot of the website on February 22, the day we started contacting the institutions Proctorio claimed to be clients, and the company only removed the seven organizations from its homepage on the 24th. February, the day Motherboard contacted Proctorio.

A spokesperson for Duke University told Motherboard the school never had a contract with Proctorio. In fact, the university had published a academic integrity guide explicitly criticizing surveillance software.

“The security services basically bring strangers into student homes or dormitories – places where students may not be comfortable exposing,” the guide read. “These privacy breaches perpetuate inequity through the use of surveillance technologies.”

At Proctorio’s request, an official at Louisiana State University-Shreveport emailed Motherboard to clarify that it was the school that had a contract with Proctorio. The Shreveport campus has around 8,500 students, far fewer than the 31,500 student flagship campus in Baton Rouge that Proctorio appeared to advertise.

Victor Balta, a spokesperson for the University of Washington, told Motherboard that the school started a six-month contract with Proctorio in April, then received a six-month free extension, but that it did not intend to renew this contract due to the low utilization rates among faculty.

A spokesperson for Texas Tech said the school had entered into a five-year contract with Proctorio and had not entered into discussions to renew it. Kent State, through a spokesperson, said they also have an active Proctorio contract, but declined to answer further questions. Duke University declined to comment.

A spokesperson for the University of Iowa, who is also among the “Top” customers on Proctorio’s website, told Vice that the school’s contract expires this summer and administrators have no not yet decided to renew it.

Proctorio isn’t the only exam monitoring company to see its clients leave. In January, the University of Southern California announced that it would no longer use Response monitor. The school will however continue to use other Respondus tools. Simon Fraser University said “a categorical no to the examination” after trying the software. And in schools like San Francisco State University and the University of Michigan-Dearborn, the faculty and administration have decided never to use the tools.

Businesses also face a host of other threats. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has asked the District of Columbia attorney general to investigate privacy concerns and “unfair and deceptive” business practices of Proctorio, Respondus, Examity, ProctorU and Honorlock. EPIC has also threatened to sue the companies if they do not reform their business practices.

A group of six senators also required that Proctorio, ProctorU and ExamSoft address “alarming issues of fairness, accessibility and privacy”.

And civil rights and privacy advocates, partnering with parents, are targeting Proctorio’s recently announced partnership with McGraw-Hill, one of the nation’s largest textbook and software publishers. After sending McGraw-Hill a open letter opposing the agreement With the signatures of more than 2,000 parents, representatives from Fight for the Future and ParentsTogether spoke to the publisher in January to voice their opposition.

“On that call, they insisted that the reason they were offering Proctorio was the overwhelming demand from university professors,” Lia Holland, Fight for the Future director of campaigns and communications, told Motherboard.

McGraw-Hill is “aware of the issues that have been raised” but intends to continue his partnership with Proctorio, who is currently working with “reputable third parties” to investigate the concerns that have come to light, the spokesperson said. Tyler Reed at Motherboard. Many educators who use McGraw-Hill find monitoring services like Proctorio “useful, even essential,” he added.

Proctorio said that in September, it hired BABL AI to audit its algorithms and the nonprofit My Blind Spot to look at its accessibility issues. But algorithmic auditing is a relatively new industry, and critics have accused companies of sort audit reports to support their public image.

Apigo, of Contra Costa College, told Motherboard that she had been contacted in recent days by people from a number of other schools seeking advice on developing guidelines to restrict the use of computer software. surveillance. “I think this semester it’s starting to gain momentum,” she said.

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