Students say Concordia’s continued use of Proctorio infringes upon their privacy

Despite a petition signed by nearly 10,000 students, the university continues to use the invigilation software

Concordia students say Proctorio is invasive and infringes on their security, but their complaints seem to fall on deaf ears. Photo Sheena Macmillan

A quick search through Concordia’s Reddit page yields a plethora of results and complaints regarding the university’s controversial decision to use the invigilation software Proctorio.

Despite being intended to reduce the probability of students cheating and maintain academic integrity, the software has received plenty of backlash and criticism online due to the unethical infringement of students’ privacy.

Proctorio, which functions as a Google Chrome extension, must be downloaded prior to an exam and works in conjunction with the Concordia University OnLine Exam platform. Upon installation, students must agree to the terms and conditions, which include granting full access to their computer’s webcam, mouse, microphone, screen activity, and desktop, before beginning their remote exam.

“I think the point of proctored exams is to discourage honest students from cheating. Just like locking your door won't stop burglaries from happening, proctored exams will not stop cheaters,” said Gabriel, a student in the mathematics department. “It will, however, make most students think twice about cheating, and hopefully stop them from being tempted to cheat.”

Sure enough, the introduction of software like Proctorio into the classroom hasn’t stopped cheating; searching the keywords “cheat with Proctorio” on YouTube and Reddit produces a multitude of tutorials and examples on how to bypass the software’s invigilation. 

However, this doesn’t expunge the fact that most students feel as though their privacy is being infringed upon when granting full access to their computer. Some exams even require that students give a full 360 degree tour of their room with their laptop or webcam. 

“Forcing cameras and microphones into the homes of students is a violation of everyone's online privacy. For some, this might not be a huge concern, but for many others, it's spying on your home,” states an open letter to the university, created by Reddit user Nixin72. “Students do not want to have their identities exposed online, and that's exactly what this risks doing. Asking to have access to tracking body movement, logging mouse movement, clipboard access, etc. is asking students to install spyware, plain and simple.”

In fact, the university’s announcement to implement the use of the software in March of 2020 led to the creation of a petition signed by over nine thousand students, which circulated the web in an effort to prevent its use. 

“The university can find many alternatives [aside from] taking such routes (such as uploading photos of the work you did for the exam, using your smartphone),” reads the petition’s accompanying statement. “We should not have to waive our rights of digital privacy in order to satisfy departmental rulings. We paid our tuition in January and never agreed to such circumstances."

Moreover, students are required to have a fully functioning microphone and webcam and are advised to drop any course with a proctored exam if they do not have access to such technology.

“Forcing students to consent to using [Proctorio] or dropping the course is a breach of the contract between the university and students because this is a unilateral decision by the university which the other party to the contract (students) must agree to,” wrote one Reddit user.

Despite the multitude of complaints and concerns, Concordia professors will continue to implement the use of the software for the upcoming final exams, causing many students to feel disheartened about the university’s lack of empathy towards the difficulties of attending school from home. The Link reached out to six professors for comment, but they all declined.

“Even if you could convince me that your software is secure which, being a computer science student, I will never believe a piece of software is 100 per cent secure—there is always a way to break something—how can you convince me to install another piece of software that violates my ethics?” writes Nixin72. “[Proctorio’s website] making the claim that it's up to our teachers seems like a moot point because they want something quick and easy to set up, and have made it pretty clear to us students that our privacy is not their priority.”

It has been made clear that the issue is not the inability to cheat, but rather the unethical use of a software that monitors students’ every breath and movement, making them more stressed during exams than need be.

“[Proctored] exams are not a perfect mechanism to stop cheating,” said Gabriel. “It's a scare tactic to get honest students not to cheat.”