With the onset of the COVID 19 pandemic, educational institutions in India have started using various software to conduct exams online. The ease of invigilating students through a mix of semi-automated technology has come as a huge relief to educational institutions. However, privacy concerns are on the rise as we enter yet another year of remote learning.
Proctoring is majorly done in two ways- face proctoring and full view proctoring. The AI model is trained to report discrepancies in movement, camera frame, eye movements, body movements and alteration of audio or video. Such anomalies are reported and flagged by the AI to the exam authorities in real-time.
From a technical perspective, as soon as the candidate enters the platform, these softwares run a safe mode that sometimes freezes the screen and does not allow the candidate to navigate the tabs. The webcam also has a blind spot with respect to the placement of the keyboard.
The data collected by these platforms contain sensitive information like location, personal space scans, contact details and biometric records. Biometric data is classified as ‘sensitive personal data’ under the draft Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019.
Further, third-party platforms with access to sensitive information pose a privacy threat. Test website MeritTrac, for example, collects data such as name, address, identifiers like Aadhaar and PAN, location, photographs, biometric data such as voice recognition and fingerprints. “We may provide your personal information with any member of our group (our subsidiaries, affiliates and parent company), service providers, partners and contractors, for the purpose of you continue to have access or use our products or services,” Meritrac stated.
Wheebox, another test website, claims to use ‘personal information’ to develop, deliver, and improve their products, services, and content. “We may also use personal information for internal purposes such as auditing, data analysis, and research to improve Wheebox products, services, and customer communications”, according to their website. The statements are vague and do not reflect the true extent of data being harnessed and used and for what purpose.
Many a time, the platforms have often shifted the liability of storing and retaining the data to the institutions in question. Therefore, it becomes paramount for the institutions to take prior consent and also educate their students on the privacy aspects of online proctoring. Unfortunately, most universities don’t have a tech expert to overlook the whole process of online exams. The universities should understand all aspects of data policy of the platforms they are using.
India needs to address the issues arising out of the human misuse of proctoring technology. Meanwhile, most reported problems with the AI system seem to revolve around human vices. The AI tracking system and collection of data take a backseat in the face of ‘human’ mischief. Cyberstalking has overshadowed the breach of data by third party services. We have seen a few cases where proctors have been accused of harassing students (predominantly female students) during and after the online test. This spotlights the pitfalls of the online test-taking system. In most cases, the proctors have allegedly messaged students in private post the exams. Some proctors have tracked down the students on social media or texted them on WhatsApp.
Student consent is another thorny issue. Once the university decides to conduct an exam, the students have little choice but to oblige and agrees to the use of their personal information by third parties. The universities should have an alternate mechanism in place to take the exams for students who do not wish to share their private information. Transparency is key here. Proctors also need to be vetted for character.
Moreover, the AI system itself is not 100% efficient when it comes to reporting malpractices. “The software deployed for exams has so far not flagged any student for misconduct, yet we have come across screenshots of question papers that are being shared on WhatsApp groups,” an exam coordinator of a South Mumbai college told a leading media house.
“Proctored exams were easy; you can just copy stuff if you’re taking the face proctored test. You naturally look down while typing since most of us can’t type without looking. So, whether you look at the keyboard or your notes, it’s the