Taking a remote exam? Not without a tool monitoring your privacy

Anton P. | April 23, 2020

Taking a leap of faith with third-party monitoring software seems risky? How about having a stranger watch all your actions? This invasive scenario has become a reality for thousands of students around the globe. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, universities decided to test academic integrity via remote proctoring tools. The unwanted side effect is that people report it as a gross invasion of their privacy.

It is not the first time the current solutions to the pandemic clash with privacy concerns. Therefore, the decision to reinforce no-cheating policies in such a way caused security experts and students to express strong criticism. Therefore, let’s take a look at the reasons for such a commotion.

Monitoring tools want to record your home and actions

During the coronavirus pandemic, all online learning and teaching platforms came to students’ and educators’ aid to help them adjust. Such options allow the academic community to launch virtual classrooms, assign homework, and evaluate students’ work.

However, there are very few solutions that help professors make sure that students do not cheat during tests. Therefore, the Australian National University (ANU) decided to apply Proctorio, third-party monitoring software. Students were not pleased with this news. They decided to start a petition to prevent ANU from forcing them to use Proctorio. It currently has more than 3,000 signatures from concerned students.

To understand the need for a petition better, let’s learn more about Proctorio. Its creators market their product as highly secure, going as far as describing it as military-grade monitoring software. In fact, Harvard and Columbia University have chosen Proctorio for conducting remote exams.

However, ANU has been a victim of a highly sophisticated attack from hackers that exposed the personal information of approximately 200,000 people. Additionally, the university did not discover the hackers’ actions for months, which allowed the crooks to work unnoticed. Therefore, students are nervous about the nature of data collected by Proctario and doubt whether ANU can handle it safely.

Also, exams are not a justifiable reason to force students to install a third-party monitoring software. Such programs strikingly resemble spyware applications, and their incorrect application could help turn universities into full-time surveillance tools. To make matters worse, more and more hackers choose to target students and educational institutions. It might be best not to give them any more ideas about how they can steal data and make a profit.

How does Proctorio work? Intrusive supervision during exams

The system requires students to provide biometric information and IDs before they can start taking an exam. Proctorio puts the computer in lockdown to make sure that participants of exams do not open new tabs.

Furthermore, the tool monitors students’ environment by connecting to microphones, web cameras, and recording keystrokes. The combination of these actions guarantees that students follow the anti-cheating regulations. Proctorio is also an AI tool, using machine learning technology and performing facial recognition.

Students claim that this is a massive invasion of their privacy. They would not feel comfortable in their homes if a third-party software monitors their actions. Also, they strongly believe that such tactics could compromise the overall security of their personal computers. If Proctorio detects suspicious activity, students will receive penalties. The latter applies if other people walk around in the background during an exam and for unidentified noises as well.

Furthermore, students need a quiet environment, a stable internet connection, a webcam, a microphone, and a compatible device. The student community emphasizes that not everyone has access to all these things. Therefore, ANU would deny access to exams for such students in general.

Students’ reactions and alternatives during the pandemic

During the coronavirus pandemic, the use of third-party monitoring software boomed drastically. Temporary closed educational institutions started using forensic technologies to enhance anti-cheating policies.

However, students claim that they feel very uncomfortable having strangers (proctors) monitor their actions. Students shared their experiences of getting penalties for seemingly minor actions. They include reaching for a pen or looking away from the screen for too long. Besides the disturbing stories of students, security specialists believe that there are ways to assess students without a massive tracking campaign. Consultants recommend to cancel exams during the pandemic, offer open-book tests, or consider other forms of assessment. Long story short, it is unfair to make students choose between good grades and their privacy.

Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.



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