Universities have become so paranoid about cheating on exams that they’ve started buying software that scans test-taking students’ faces, follows what they’re doing on the web, and records audio. Now the students who find themselves trapped in this dismal panopticon are wondering what the software company is doing with their data.
Rutgers, the state university of beloved east coast superfund site New Jersey, made a deal roughly eight months ago with a company called Verificient Technologies, makers of an exam-time spyware package called ProctorTrack. Until a month ago, the university had no written contract with Verificient, New Brunswick Today reports. When the school and the corporation finally did get some paperwork on the books late last month, covering little things like student privacy, it promised Verificient would delete all student data 90 days after each course’s final exam, and students would get an email letting them know their audio, video, and web activity had been virtually shredded. (That’s up from the 30-60 day time frame Rutgers and Verificient advertised when the software came to campus in February.)
A number of students told New Brunswick Today they still haven’t received deletion notices for the spring semester, the first in which they were being aggressively spied on, and they’re wondering what the company is doing with their data.
A fair question. An April New York Times piece about the software’s bumpy rollout at Rutgers notes that Verificient’s CEO worked on airport security face-scanning for everyone’s most-trusted government agency, the TSA.
The similarities are noticeable, the Times reports: both the proctoring software and the TSA protocols flag any movement or facial expression that doesn’t conform to a narrow band of normal behavior. At the airport, it’s excessive yawning or looking down. For ProctorTrack, there’s a long list of requirements: always face the camera and stay within the webcam frame, be well-lit, and don’t take bathroom breaks.
Oh, and make sure to have your knuckles and your photo ID ready for scanning.
Why was Rutgers so eager to throw students into this system that was patented just a month before they rolled it out? The NYT implies it’s because of the increasingly competitive market for online degrees, where being able to promise students aren’t gaming the system means you can charge higher tuition—even if you have to spy on students without so much as a written contract to do it.
“Officials at Rutgers and Verificient have not responded to inquiries about whether or not the company is in compliance” with the data-deletion policy, writes New Brunswick Today. Gawker has reached out to the university for comment, and will update this story with their response.
Update: A spokesperson for the University told Gawker via email that the data has been purged, and notices began going out to students Sunday (a couple of days after New Brunswick Today started looking into the issue).
Here’s the statement:
Rutgers students taking online courses can choose whether they wish to take their exams online, or with a live proctor. Any student data obtained during an online exam is used only by ProctorTrack to ensure compliance with testing policies. In compliance with the agreement, spring semester student data was purged on Sept. 1. On Sept. 13, notice of the deletion began going out to the more 3,000 students who chose to use the ProctorTrack software.