FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 17, 2020
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In an open letter, over 2000 parents are calling on textbook publisher McGraw-Hill to end it’s relationship with proctoring app Proctorio. Specifically, parents are demanding an end to pairing proctoring apps, which digital rights experts have characterized as ‘indistinguishable from spyware’, with course materials.
The letter argues that: “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. It is unacceptable that our children must surrender their civil rights, especially while attending a public institution, to complete their education”
Read the full letter below.
The letter comes as a report from Edsurge indicated in November that Proctorio and McGraw-Hill are aiming to expand proctoring app surveillance beyond test-taking to become a part of doing regular homework. Six US Senators recently asked Proctorio and other online proctoring companies to “address the alarmingly long list of equity, accessibility, & privacy issues students are facing on their exam platforms.”
“It was bad enough that kids of color are subjected to systematic racial discrimination in classrooms, but now with so much of school online, we have to worry about racial bias in computer software,” said Dalia Hashad (she/her), a parent who signed the letter. “Instead of improving things for children of color, discriminatory algorithms make systematic inequalities worse. As a parent, that’s unacceptable.”
“Parents are right to criticize McGraw-Hill’s rush to profit off of invasive, racially-biased technologies. There are severe inequities for students of color, neurodiverse students, and low income students with proctoring apps,” said Lia Holland (she/they), an activist with digital rights organization Fight for the Future. “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. McGraw-Hill’s eagerness to promote what amounts to unethical experimentation on students is unconscionable.”
Throughout 2020, McGraw-Hill’s partner, Proctorio, has threatened or taken aggressive legal action against critics, including a staff member and a student. They have also been accused of abusing Twitter’s DMCA takedown process to remove critical tweets, denying a Black student access to a test, and posting private student information on Reddit—among other complaints.
Jennifer Johnson’s son Erik is a freshman at Ohio’s Miami University. Earlier in 2020, Erik posted his concerns about Proctorio and his analysis of their code online, only to receive intimidating messages from Proctorio’s CEO, among other retaliation.
“I don’t think many parents understand the mechanics of what students are being asked to do in order to utilize online proctoring services,” said Jennifer Johnson (she/her), regarding her son’s experience with Proctorio. “Parents assume that colleges or universities are keeping the best interest of our students front and center–including privacy, and we are encouraged not to meddle in the day-to-day affairs of student academic life. I was very surprised to hear of the surveillance methods implemented by Proctorio…Allowing strangers—and even professors—access to students’ personal spaces (including personal sleeping areas if testing in a dorm room or bedroom) is highly invasive.”
“This is a unique time in history–one that requires extraordinary solutions to educate and assess our future leaders,” Johnson continued. “We expect our students, many of whom have only recently reached the age of majority, to abide by the honor codes of institutions of higher learning. Yet during assessments, students are treated in ways that assume the worst possible behavior instead of fostering and reinforcing a positive learning environment. It seems counterintuitive that the very institutions that incubate ideas and promote critical thinking are contracting with for-profit, third-party organizations and anointing these draconian surveillance measures.”
“Parents are speaking out about online proctoring software because it exacerbates inequities for students of color and invades student privacy with little accountability,” said Justin Ruben (he/him), co-Executive Director of ParentsTogether, a 2.5 million parent organization supporting the letter. “As a company interested in equitably educating kids, McGraw-Hill shouldn’t promote problematic online proctoring software.”
FULL LETTER TEXT
An open letter to Simon Allen, CEO of McGraw Hill Publishing, and Terri Walker, head of Inclusion and Diversity at McGraw Hill Publishing from 2000 parents.
We are writing today to request that you end your relationship with Proctorio and all other invasive and racially-biased online proctoring tools permanently. These tools harm students of color, and as an institution that claims to value diversity and inclusion, McGraw Hill should not support them.
Proctorio and other online proctoring tools have a history of racial bias and violating students’ privacy. Writing for the MIT Technology Review, a librarian at UC Denver shared the following story: “A Black woman at my university once told me that whenever she used Proctorio’s test proctoring software, it always prompted her to shine more light on her face. The software couldn’t validate her identity and she was denied access to tests so often that she had to go to her professor to make other arrangements. Her white peers never had this problem.”
As has been amplified by the racial justice uprisings, and addressed by the City of Portland’s Director of Equity and Human Rights Dr. Markisha Smith: “Being antiracist means understanding through the use of root cause analysis that the history of surveillance in this country is rooted in slavery, with the earliest examples of controlling the movement of enslaved people being the ‘slave pass’. Being antiracist means ensuring the safety of BIPOC communities first.”
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. It is unacceptable that our children must surrender their civil rights, especially while attending a public institution, to complete their education.
Furthermore, Proctorio has threatened legal action against people who have criticized or exposed their invasive practices.
Your Inclusion & Diversity statement states “Our focus on inclusion and diversity will ensure that our team members, products, and customer experiences are relevant and represent the diverse population of customers we serve” We demand that McGraw Hill Publishing cease its performative allyship and end its peddling of racially-biased, invasive surveillance technology immediately.
Sincerely, the undersigned.