There has been no other time in education’s history in which students have been asked to surrender as much of their privacy as they have now. Initiated by a desire to streamline learning and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, overreliance, or use at all of the “proctoring browser” is an attack on students’ personal space, as well as an open invitation for tyrannical corporations to harvest a person’s very likeness and sell it to the highest bidder.
For any of those who have been spared of the horrors that these new technologies have wrought upon students, proctoring browsers are third party anti-cheating internet browsers that prevent students from accessing other internet tabs while taking a quiz or test. Most of these programs also access the student’s microphone and camera to ensure no outside test assistance is received. There are also several programs which require facial recognition to ensure the proper individual is taking the test.
As an example, UNCG uses the Respondus Lockdown Browser, and has been using the program at an alarming rate since the pandemic hit. The program styles itself as an anti-cheating program which costs about $6,000 per year for the university to utilize; a bill students are asked to foot through higher tuition rates. But what this program truly is, is spyware. That’s right, good old fashioned spyware. And not some from the Soviet Union or from any other boogeyman. But from right here at our own campus. Perhaps this is hyperbolic, as it might well be. However, it is not hyperbolic to point out the extreme invasions of privacy that this software commits against its users.
When taking a test, it is not uncommon for a student to be prompted with a message that alerts them that their testing session is being recorded, listened to, or that a “proctor” if they wish, may remotely access a person’s entire computer. The student can either accept these terms, which will allow them to take the test, or deny them, which will result in an automatic failure. This is truly an illusion of choice as students have no proper recourse but to allow both the university and proctoring company to have unfettered access to intimate video of their academic performance. Not only do these types of programs want to see the students’ faces while they test, but they also demand to see a panoramic view of the room in which the student is testing. Which, for many students, happens to be their bedroom. An intimate location which is now recorded forever. Worse yet, it is impossible to say what happens to these recordings once they are recorded. As students sign all their rights away to the footage, they no longer have control over their own likeness. And information regarding the decor of their room is ripe for being sold to the behemoth Cambridge Analytica, or any other big data company.
We have, in this country, a no quartering amendment for a reason: to keep the enemy out of our homes. Yet it seems that universities across the country, even our own UNCG, have decided to allow invasive corporate interests, the enemy of education, into our homes night after night.
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