NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Students at Rutgers University are balking at a new biometric software used in online classes that requires them to record their facial features, knuckles and photo ID.
ProctorTrack, implemented for online courses this year, requires students to record their face, knuckle and personal identification details to verify their identity. The software then tracks students’ monitor, browser, webcam and microphone activity during the session to prevent cheating on exams, according to The Daily Targum – Rutgers’ student newspaper.
The software and its implementation – which went largely unnoticed because the university did not notify students of the change until after the add-drop period ended – are now raising serious privacy concerns among some students. Others started a Change.org petition to stop the use of ProctorTrack over a $32 activation fee imposed on unwitting students taking classes online.
“Emails about mandating the use of ProctorTrack were sent out during the THIRD WEEK of classes,” School of Arts and Sciences senior Betsy Chao wrote on the Change.org petition. “It was already too late to drop classes and so, students essentially have NO choice but to pay the fee.”
That failure to notify student could be a violation of the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, according to media reports.
The biggest concerns, however, seem to center on apparent privacy and security risks.
According to The Daily Targum, “many students are unsure if the ProctorTrack system efficiently secures recorded student data.
“The system’s security measures are not particularly clear. Combined with ProctorTrack’s young age — the system was literally patented several weeks ago — potential security vulnerabilities within the ProctorTrack system remain an open question.
“Rutgers also seems unaware that visually recording personal identification over the Internet is a major risk. Even if ProctorTrack is completely protected, there is no way to guarantee that a student’s computer was not compromised by webcam monitoring exploitation software, such as Remote Access Tools, prior to ProctorTrack’s use. Exposing personal identification over online webcam for verification purposes may have dangerously unintended consequences.”
Students also do not like the idea that instructors can use ProctorTrack to restrict how they use their computers during sessions. The software can lock out keyboard controls, or prevent certain programs from opening during an exam, for example.
“Monitoring student browser history is extremely invasive and might not be common knowledge to many students utilizing the ProctorTrack software,” according to The Daily Targum.
Despite the concerns from students, Rutgers spokesman E.J. Miranda contends the university “has put significant effort into protecting the privacy of online students,” according to BiometricUpdate.com.
Miranda also said the software is not mandatory, but one of several options students can use.
“ProctorTrack is one method, but (the Rutgers Center for Online and Hybrid Learning and Instructional Technologies) offers other options to students, faculty and departments for compliance with the federal requirements, such as Examity and ExamGuard,” Miranda said.