ANU Proceeds with Proctorio Software Despite Privacy Concerns
By Samuel Wright and Rebecca Zhong
In an email sent to ANU students yesterday, the University announced that it will use Proctorio to hold remote examinations, despite the privacy concerns that have been raised by many students. The announcement featured a report by the University’s Information Security Office (ISO), which said that it found “no compelling evidence” to support the privacy concerns.
There has also been conflicting information regarding the University’s decision. As students have continued to express strong reservations to the use of the platform, ANUSA Education Officer Skanda Panditharatne told Observer that “ANU has not yet made a decision on Proctorio.” He added that student representatives were “disappointed that ANU has prematurely released a webpage about Proctorio before engaging in student consultation”.
The ISO’s report, from 8 April, stated that privacy concerns should be “balanced against the fact [that] hundreds of universities” have used the platform. The report only names the University of Wollongong, as well as six universities in the US that have used Proctorio, out of an alleged four hundred institutions that have employed the platform. The report also cited Proctorio’s compliance with “numerous privacy regulations/certifications,” and indicated that students should consult Proctorio directly for further clarifications regarding the platform.
In an email sent to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Grady Venville and other ANU staff on 13 April, ANUSA General Representatives expressed concerns that the use of Proctorio “disadvantages certain groups of students”. The email cited unreliable internet as an issue, as well as Proctorio’s ability to detect what it deems “suspicious movement”. The ISO report did not discuss these issues. The email also cited a review of the platform, where a student had experienced the wiping of his personal data by the Proctorio software, data that included “account names, passwords, and cache data”. On the Google Chrome Web Store, the Proctorio extension has a 1.7-star rating out of 5.
Venville responded to the General Representatives’ email on 13 April, indicating that the issue of online invigilation and the concerns of Gen Reps would be discussed at an upcoming meeting in the following week. Venville also stated in the email that she has organised for the Associate Deans of Education from CBE and CECS to meet with ANUSA representatives to discuss their concerns. Panditheratne stated that ANUSA “will continue to work with grassroot student groups to represent student views… and demand that our privacy and integrity concerns are taken seriously”.
ANU’s announcement on 14 April regarding Proctorio has been met with widespread concern. A post to the Facebook page ANU Confessions contained a link to Proctorio’s official website. On its website, Proctorio claims that it has “highly-trained professionals” who can “analyse exam recordings for issues of academic dishonesty”. The post expressed reservations that Proctorio can “watch back all the information” that it collects. While Proctorio can be used in Australia, the post also noted that this does not mean Proctorio is subject to Australian privacy laws, because the data that it collects would be held in the United States.
Currently, teaching staff have had to improvise in their move to remote exam conditions. An ANU staff member who teaches in the Research School of Computer Science told Observer that the mid-semester examination for his course, which would have been held in a computer lab, has been adapted to an “assignment with a 90-minute submission time”. According to the staff member, this change to the course required a “rapid transition,” which required the creation of additional versions of the same exam, as well as ensuring “fairness between versions.”
Due to the general dissatisfaction with ANU’s response, some students have contacted Proctorio’s CEO Mike Olson (@artfulhacker) via Twitter. Olson has been described by Online Educa Berlin, an international technology conference, as “creating educational technology that protects student privacy”. In a Twitter exchange that was also shared to Schmidtposting, Olson responded to tweets made by an ANU student, stating that Proctorio is “open to researchers auditing the source code”. It is unclear if Proctorio’s claims about the legitimacy of its privacy protection, or the type of data it can access on devices, can currently be verified based on the source code it has made publicly available. Zoom, which has been discussed by ANU staff as a possible platform for “soft-invigilation”, had faced criticism for falsely claiming that it employs ‘end-to-end’ encryption, as well as previously sending data from its IOS app to Facebook without appropriate user permissions.
An ANU spokesperson told Observer the University “has conducted preliminary investigations into its [Proctorio’s] privacy and security applications” and will “continue to work with students and experts to understand issues”. They also stated that ANU is “aware of student concerns about Proctorio,” and that they are “looking to improve the remote learning experience.”
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