October 21, 2020

EPSTEIN | Read the Terms of Use

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With the transition of all learning to virtual instruction right around the corner, one of the main concerns for instructors and students alike is ensuring academic integrity during online exams. Professors have tried different testing modalities, with some resorting to proctored Zoom breakout rooms and others relying on Canvas timed, open-note exams.

Some professors, however, use a software called Examity. Examity is an online proctoring company with its own brand of software which markets itself to universities as a stress-reducing, lockdown-browser system option for instructors looking for a modem to conduct asynchronous exams. The company came to prominence a few years ago as online learning became more popular. They have recently capitalized on the transition to virtual education as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. They’ve even procured a contract with Cornell.

The company and its software, put simply, is not a favorite among students. The registration process is faulty for some and knowing that an unknown person at an undisclosed location has sweeping access to your computer and is watching you for the duration of the exam is uncomfortable to say the least. Unfortunately, the concerns do not stop there – the main issue that some Cornellians have with Examity is a lack of digital privacy, stemming from the software’s terms of use.

In order to make an account with Examity, one must first agree to the company’s basic terms of use allowing them to collect certain data, although Cornell’s contract with Examity limits that data to a degree. That being said, they do require agreeing to a baseline set of terms for use of their software, and what they collect in order to use that software is vast. Additionally, the company shirks responsibility if the data is stolen by a bad actor or is used by one of the “trusted” third parties Examity shares its collected data with. At the end of their terms of use,  one must acknowledge the company’s disclaimer, “while [Examity] strive[s] to protect your personally identifiable information, we cannot guarantee that it will be 100 percent secure. Your transmission of your data to our Platform thus is done entirely at your own risk.”

So what is the data that they collect, and why do they collect it?

In their own words, Examity uses the rationale of only potentially collecting personal information as a means of properly identifying a student, yet the information they would have the right to collect includes the names of immediate family members, financial information, retinal scans and access to the browsing server being used to open the application, and therefore caches and search history along with more hyper-specific data. Although a string of articles came out over the past few years in publications such as The Verge and The New York Times describing the experiences of students and professors across the country with proctoring software, along with their concerns over the apparent privacy outreach of companies such as Examity, students at Cornell have surprisingly by large not been made aware of these risks. It’s paramount this year for students to read what they are agreeing to prior to exams and to request potential proctored alternatives if the above stated information is concerning to them. While most courses that use Examity for exams have similar, less invasive alternatives that still ensure academic integrity, if none such option exists for your course, petition for one. As many of these options are already in play across campus, an instructor is sure to find a modem that works for their course content.

Truth be told, the in-person exam environment at Cornell is impossible to replicate online, and sacrificing privacy at the capacity Examity requires in order to gain the unattainable replication of the proctored in person exam is, in my opinion, not the answer. Instead, an instructor could resort to the more inventive testing measures that can both ensure academic integrity and even the playing field among students, a strategy that has been reflected in many courses at Cornell. The  answer is to put trust in students and not resort to “by any means necessary” type solutions like Examity.

At the end of the day, Cornell and our professors offer an invaluable education experience, and students who are willing to forgo absorbing knowledge in order to cheat on exams are just cheating themselves in the end.


Joshua Dov Epstein is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, and can be reached at [email protected]. His column, Heterodox, appears every other Tuesday this semester.