The Deputy Vice-Chancellor is Wrong About Proctorio

Late in April, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) (DVCA) Grady Venville published a piece in Woroni about Proctorio. It was equal parts condescension, misinformation, and dismissal of the thousands of students resisting Proctorio. In the interest of the trust and good faith DVCA Venville talks about, let’s get some things straight about Proctorio – claim by claim.

 

“No, Proctorio can’t spy on you. Any information it collects on you, you will be informed about.”

This is semantics, and DVCA Venville probably led with it because it sounds very definitive. Sure, Proctorio doesn’t collect information without informing us. However, considering how some students (unless they want deferred exams) will be compelled to “consent”, and considering the breadth, depth, and scope of information it collects about students, it certainly brings the term “spying” to mind.

 

“No, Proctorio cannot access your files.”

Anybody that’s been following the ‘No Proctorio’ campaign can tell you this is a claim that nobody is making. This is accurate, and notable in that your files are one of the few things that Proctorio can’t access. Rest assured, though, it can take a screenshot of whatever you open whilst Proctorio is running!

 

“No, Proctorio does not use facial recognition.”

We contacted Proctorio support directly on this one, and a customer service representative helpfully informed us that “Proctorio runs facial recognition software to determine if multiple people are visible in the webcam footage at the same time.” The Proctorio website confirms that rather than facial recognition, Proctorio employs “both machine learning-enabled ID verification and proprietary facial detection technology”.

 

No, Proctorio does not collect biometric data.”

Technically correct, as Proctorio uses “facial detection” rather than “facial recognition”, and rather than monitoring the pattern of your keystrokes and attributing that pattern to you as an individual, it simply monitors your keystrokes for “anomalies”. Comforting!

 

“No, Proctorio does not monitor what you type. It only monitors that you type.”

From the same communication with Proctorio support: “Recording the screen allows the professor to view exactly what the Test Taker was seeing on their monitor.” If what you’re typing is visible, Proctorio does monitor it.

 

“No, Proctorio does not have access to your emails.”

That’s true! And again, who said that it did?

 

“No, Proctorio does not have access to your machine.”

This is helpfully vague, which provides some plausible deniability to it being an outright lie. Via Proctorio’s website, “Proctorio creates a secure exam environment by restricting internet navigation and computer functionality. All internet browsing can be blocked or specific websites may be […] blacklisted.” I’d classify that as access to my machine.

 

“No, ANU leaders will not be ‘spying’ on any student.”

One has to imagine this is in response to the ‘No Proctorio’ campaign slogan “Get out of my house, Brian!” – because it doesn’t make much sense otherwise. Yes, Proctorio is not technically spyware, but it doesn’t have to be for any rational student to be concerned with the amount of data it stores and provides lecturers.

 

“No, Proctorio is not a cybersecurity threat. It’s never been hacked.”

True! Neither had the ANU until 2018.

 

“No, ANU students will not be allowed to pass this year without assessment.”

In the context of using Proctorio against democratic student will, this reads suspiciously like a threat.

 

“No, we are not asking all students to use Proctorio – we will only be using this software for assessments in a small number of courses.”

If even one course is using Proctorio, then our criticism of it still applies. Regardless, If it’s as good as DVCA Venville makes it out to be, then why go for this assurance?

 

“No, the use of Proctorio is not about cutting costs or replacing staff. These measures actually cost us more.”

This might be true for the specific exam period of Semester 1 2020 – ANU hasn’t released the figures on it. The point being made by some students in the ‘No Proctorio’ campaign was that moves towards more online content represent a broader trend in universities across Australia towards cost-cutting and job losses. In the long term, it is clearly in the interest of budget-conscious universities to have as much course content delivered and facilitated online as possible, minimising costs associated with classrooms, lecture halls, and staff.

 

What is true about the ANU using Proctorio is that, under the logic of the neoliberal university, it has no choice. We as students are both customers and products to the university. In our capacity as the latter, universities need to be able to promise future employers that they can expect a certain level of rote memorisation from applicants with degrees. This is what makes universities so intransigent on not allowing students to “pass this year without assessment.” It is not about if a student has actually learnt anything, but whether the university can rubber stamp them as having learnt enough in a way employers will believe. Allowing students to get through their courses without this impacts the university’s credibility to employers – which is clearly more important to the executive than its credibility to students.

 

COVID-19 has been bad for universities, and possibly catastrophic if travel restrictions don’t ease soon. It is, however, presenting them with an opportunity to accelerate the transition to online learning that all universities have been undergoing for the last decade. Technology that allows less staff to be responsible for a greater number of students – lecture recordings, student surveillance, etc. – logically and historically has led to cuts in staff jobs and pay. The ANU already monitors students through Wattle. Proctorio will build on this in a way that crosses a line for some students – given more than 4,000 have signed a petition against Proctorio –  and enables the university to have less staff on hand, on lower wages, to facilitate courses.

 

An ABC article notes that universities all over the country (and for that matter, internationally), are moving in the direction of online invigilation. UC has also announced it will be using Proctorio. As a Group of Eight university, the ANU has the capacity to legitimise extreme student surveillance in the name of crisis response. With a campaign against Proctorio, we can put a serious dent in the trend of university sponsored invasions of privacy, and have a democratic say in our learning. As students of the ANU, we have both the opportunity and the responsibility to resist.

 

Grace Carter is a member of the ‘No Proctorio’ campaign.