On Friday, digital rights group Fight for the Future unveiled an open letter signed by 2,000 parents calling on McGraw-Hill Publishing to end its relationship with Proctorio, one of many proctoring apps that offers services that digital rights groups have called "indistinguishable from spyware.”
As the pandemic has pushed schooling into virtual classrooms, a host of software vendors have stepped up to offer their latest surveillance tools. Some, like Proctorio, offer technologies that claim to fight cheating by tracking head and eye movements, without any evidence that their algorithms do anything but make students anxious (and thus perform worse). Others rely on facial recognition technology, which is itself rife with racial bias, and have regularly failed to verify the identities of students of color at various points while taking state bar exams, forcing the test to end.
Proctorio is one of a few companies that has come under scrutiny from privacy groups not only for invasive surveillance, but exhaustive data extraction that collects sensitive student data including biometrics. The company is perhaps unique in its attempts to silence critics of its surveillance programs. Proctorio has deployed lawsuits to silence critics, forcing one University of British Columbia learning technology specialist to exhaust his personal and emergency savings due to a lawsuit meant to silence his online criticisms of the company. Proctorio has also targeted students and abused Twitter's DMCA takedown process to further suppress valid criticisms of its proctoring software.
"Automated proctoring is also a direct and abhorrent violation of our children’s privacy. Proctorio and other companies get access to personal data from our children, including their personal computers, private rooms in their homes, and other data,” reads the letter, which is signed by parents organized by Fight for the Future in partnership with Parents Together, a 2.5 million parent organization. “It is unacceptable that our children must surrender their civil rights, especially while attending a public institution, to complete their education"
Proctorio and McGraw-Hill have a close relationship, with a November report from Edsurge revealing the companies planned to expand proctoring surveillance from test-taking to homework. "Proctorio would not have such an easy entré into schools if McGraw-Hill weren’t violating their own commitments to diversity and inclusion by integrating Proctorio’s half-baked app with coursework," Lia Holland, an activist with the digital rights group Fight for the Future, said in a statement. "McGraw-Hill’s eagerness to promote what amounts to unethical experimentation on students is unconscionable."
The parents end the letter with an unequivocal demand for McGraw-Hill to "cease its performative allyship and end its peddling of racially-biased, invasive surveillance technology immediately."