Educational Software Rings in Big Bucks at Expense of Students

By Marilia Wyatt

Rutgers requires that I install spyware on my personal computer that will allow an outside company to watch me through my webcam, record my knuckles, photograph my student ID including my RUID number and view my files as I use my computer to take an online exam. If I refuse, I will not graduate in May as scheduled. Believe it or not, I have to pay $32 to the company for this terrible threat to privacy in addition to Rutgers tuition and fees.

There is no other option for students — pay for and install this Proctortrack software or fail.

There is no plan for young women like me who prefer not to give access for the startup company to watch me through my personal laptop webcam, record my student ID or monitor my actions as I take the exam.

The recently patented company claims it only analyzes recordings, but students should have an option to opt out. I would never feel comfortable with my laptop again or at home thinking that a malicious cybercriminal or Proctortrack employee might be watching me through my webcam or hearing me through the microphone.

However, apparently, I must give up this privacy if I want to graduate in May.

Rutgers could easily provide an option for students who are not comfortable with this software. All classes that require Proctortrack could provide students with the option of taking the test traditionally in a classroom with a proctor, or Rutgers could require professors of online courses to offer a time and place in which students could opt to take the test in the presence of the professor.

However, Rutgers clearly did not think this through. Most students had no idea about this requirement until after the add/drop period. Rutgers contracted Proctortrack to reduce cheating in online courses, and the company claims that student data is secure and deleted regularly.

In his New York Times article “Data Can Be Used and Secured,” Tyler Bosmeny eloquently states, “… this wave of revolutionary education software … is amplifying new challenges for schools when it comes to student privacy. Data isn’t inherently scary — what’s scary is when (higher education) leaders don’t have clear control over how data is used.” Furthermore, big contracts are given to companies like Proctortrack with limited restriction on data collection and unclear protocols on how data is used and secured.

Sounds like a profitable policy for Proctortrack at the expense of students’ privacy. A POLITICO investigation found the higher education business gives big contracts to companies such as Pearson, which give far-reaching access to student’s personal data “with few constraints on how it is used.” Too often students’ privacy is at the mercy of such companies.

I understand Rutgers’ noble commitment to academic integrity, and maybe Proctortrack takes safety, security, and privacy seriously, but let’s be real — attackers are becoming increasingly capable and vicious. If someone can recover nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence that she deleted years ago and destroyed the phone they were on, it’s surely possible that this system could be hacked, leaving young Rutgers women and men vulnerable to voyeurism and exploitation.

In conclusion, I ask the Rutgers administration to act immediately and to provide an alternative testing option and I encourage all students to contact their deans, administrators, professors and legislators to vote your opposition to this unfair policy.

What Alessandro Acquisti said, “One of the defining fights of our times will be the fight for the control over personal information, the fight over whether big data will become a force for freedom, rather than a force which will hiddenly manipulate us,” is true.

This article was also published  on February 22, 2015, in the Daily Targum

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