One of a myriad problems produced by the response to the Covid pandemic has been the switch to online classes, which in turn gave rise to proctoring apps and software, that can turn into invasive surveillance tools capable of seriously undermining students’ privacy in their own homes.
This type of software collects data from a computer’s desktop and webcam that is then reviewed by a proctoring service.
University of British Columbia’s remote learning specialist Ian Linkletter, who has been vocal about his worrying findings regarding Proctorio, the proctoring app this school’s students have no choice but to use, is now being sued by the company that produces it.
What Linkletter discovered when he analyzed the software behind the app is that it was performing invasive tracking of its users, including by reporting their “abnormal” eye and head movements. This specialist’s concern was that the users were not sufficiently aware of the app’s functions, and that they could be unfairly penalized based on Proctorio’s analysis of their behavior.
Proctorio is now going after Linkletter for none other than alleged “copyright infringement” – because while sharing his criticism on Twitter, he linked to the company’s own videos posted on YouTube that explain how the app works, including by stating that it tracks “abnormal head movements” and looks for “behavioral flags.”
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The assertion Proctorio is making here is that the mere act of linking to their content was a violation of Canada’s Copyright Act.
The filing also claims that the videos were “confidential” – although they were made publicly available by the company. This allegation rests on the fact Linkletter is an employee of the university with which this US company has a confidentiality agreement.
The digital rights watchdog EFF believes that the lawsuit is “bizarre and meritless” and an example of a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP).
But the group is hopeful that the Protection of Public Participation Act (PPPA), a law passed in British Columbia in 2019, will now be put to the test to legally protect Linkletter.
The legislation’s purpose is to allow a defendant to claim that their speech was of public interest and ask the court to dismiss a case.