Potential privacy violations loom large
The University of Regina has done little to assuage the concerns many students are having regarding Proctortrack’s e-proctoring software. It’s also become painfully clear that the university does not care about students’ concerns and are determined to continue on their path of disregarding student’s privacy, mental health, and their ability to be their most successful.
Since last week the University of Regina has proceeded to release a “Remote Proctoring FAQ” listing many of the common concerns students are having about this e-proctoring software. To no one’s surprise, they haven’t managed to truly address any of them.
First of all their document states a couple of new things that bring up additional concerns among students. Primarily among them are student IDs for new students, particularly international students that might be out of the country. New students (or students that lost their ID) are required to send in a photo of themselves to be used as their new ID. This of course puts an excess burden on new and international students.
Another concern is the fact that “Proctortrack software records what is shown by the student’s webcam, and also what happens on the student’s computer screen, including all software that is running.” The issue with this of course, is that students might not even have software that is running but still showing notifications. For example, there are many apps that show notifications even when you’re not using them, such as Steam, Discord, Slack, Outlook, email, etc. Many of them have the potential to share potential sensitive data on their screen, which may be flagged as cheating and require a professor to go and look at them, seeing the potentially sensitive student data. It’s unreasonable to expect a student to uninstall all the apps on their personal computers just in order to take an exam. Besides that fact, that means accidentally minimizing an exam window allows the review to see all the files on a person’s desktop, again potentially showing sensitive private data.
That’s not even close to the invasion of privacy they admit to further down on the FAQ. “Be aware of what may be viewed by your webcam and, when possible, position the webcam to avoid recording pictures, documents or other objects containing personal images or information.” This creates a problem for many students. If they want to take an exam in their room, they have to redecorate their room in order to keep potentially private items from appearing on the webcam. The only other option would be to take an exam outside of their personal bedroom, which has it’s own issues, especially for people living in households with more than one person, because if you move outside of your own room you run the risk of someone walking into frame, or a conversation being overheard by your audio system and flagged as cheating.
Hannah Tait, a fourth-year student pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a Bachelor of Business Administration at the University of Regina said in a draft of a letter addressed to the University that:
“ProctorTrack is located within the United States. They claim to store data from Canadians on Canadian servers, so the Patriot Act does not apply. Even if the Patriot Act does not apply, there are other acts and policies that would give the United States government access to our personal information. According the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act, CLOUD Act, American institutions can request to have our information regardless of where the data is stored. Additionally, information is stored for up to two years. In this climate it would not be a far leap to think ProctorTrack could be bought out, or put new policies in place, or have a data breech in the next two years. Once the biometric and identity data is submitted it is out of students, or the universities control. How many people will see this information without our knowledge?”
Even on a small scale Tait went on to say, “The movement of information through the professors network rests on the university and professors to protect the information they have access to. Are professors competent with security? What are the security protocols staff follow during work from home? Do their partners, roommates, or children have access to their computers?”
Which brings us to the next point, which is the fact that this will put extra strain on teachers and TAs. In an in-person proctoring exam, one professor can watch over all their students and make sure they’re not cheating. In an e-proctored exam, each student has to be reviewed individually, meaning a lot more hours having to be put in by teachers and TAs to ensure the validity of exams. As pointed out by many students and teachers, there are other options that could be used in lieu of e-proctoring that are both less invasive, less work to implement, and better suited at assessing a student’s knowledge. Using Zoom to watch students during exams is less invasive, and wouldn’t require students to have a third-party store information and use AI to flag people. Timed tests would reduce opportunity for cheating. Designing exams to test application of knowledge rather than straight regurgitation could also be used.
Multiple students have also brought up issues with the extra strain this is causing on student’s mental health. Elias Maze, a concerned student, has approached media and has sent messages to the president and U of R administrator voicing concerns not just about privacy, but also students’ mental health. Tait also notes some of these concerns in regards to mental health.
“The installation of the software is an added stress point and invasion of privacy before the exam even starts. Additionally, when there is an issue with the software, students are expected to contact Proctortrack to rectify the issue. This is an added stressful responsibility with added security risks. Contacting a third party during a final puts exam performance at risk due to stress and availability of customer service. Finally, students are not given enough time or information to make an educated decision due to the stressful time of year and conversion to online learning.”
Tait also had a number of points regarding the e-proctoring software and its various flaws, in particular its racial bias.
“Artificial intelligence (AI) is a feature of ProctorTrack used to automatically detect potential misconduct. AI has been recognized as a great tool, but it has flaws when it comes to identifying minority communities such as people of colour, elderly, or female. Developers tell the program what is suspicious. A large portion of software developers are Caucasian, able-bodied, cis men. Facial recognition with artificial intelligence is undoubtedly new territory for society with many unexplored consequences, but the university is trusting it to monitor our diverse student population to maintain academic integrity. Government bodies, Google, big banks and many other organizations recognize there are biases, sometimes racial, present in some artificial intelligence. Mandatory use of a program that uses artificial intelligence is potentially furthering institutionalized discrimination. Can we guarantee that students of colour or students with disabilities won’t be flagged then investigated disproportionately? Can we guarantee that the user experience of installing and using this software will provide an equal opportunity for all students to do well academically?”
In an interview with Art Exner, Associate Vice-President of Information Services at the University of Regina, he reiterated this:
“It is important to maintain a perspective and understanding that this is new to the university and there is an understanding that students and teachers are both learning to use it. There are a lot of adaptations students and teachers are learning and wondering how to achieve learning outcomes. Proctoring is certainly something that does raise concerns and it is important that we give voice to those concerns and the ability to consider and respond to them in a thoughtful manner. These are systems are not without their side effects and we need to acknowledge that they exist and we need to understand that a group of very thoughtful individuals did weigh lots of thought on these that led to the decision on the whole that proctoring was an important thing for the university to implement.”
It’s obvious the university has resolved to wait for e-proctoring to prove itself to be the failure that many students are already concerned it will be. While they claim to be listening to students’ concerns, they have done nothing to help address them. Students should have the right to review the agreement signed by the University with Proctortrack to see what exactly they agreed on, and what this is costing the University and students. While you might not see a charge on your transcript that directly says “eProctoring,” it is still an extra thing the University has spent money on, especially when they claim there is no money to reduce tuition. By that time the results come back on the utility of Proctortrack it may already be too late, further causing students stress, affecting their academic performance, and adding to an already tumultuous 2020.