Pluralistic: 04 Sep 2021

Today's links

A laptop on a desk, its screen filled with the eye of HAL 9000.

Proctorio's awful reviews disappear down the memory hole (permalink)

Remember Proctorio? They're the "remote proctoring" company that boomed during the pandemic by promising that they could stop exam cheating through gross, discriminatory privacy invasions and snake-oil machine learning.

In case you've lost the thread (it's been a minute), Proctorio is a tool that transforms students' personal computers into surveillance tools.

For example, when you sit down, you have to use your webcam to give a remote party a tour of your room. If you live in crowded conditions (say, in a one-room flat with an "essential worker" who works night shifts), you can get failed before you even start.

Got kids? Better get 'em used to LARPing Flowers in the Attic (or, you know, The Diary of Anne Frank) because their crying or talking can also flunk you. Shhh, the robots are judging Mummy.

Homeless? Studying from a library? Getting your broadband in a car in a Taco Bell parking lot? You just failed.

But say you can find a private, silent room to sit your exam in. Do you look up or stare into space while you think? Do you sometimes whisper to yourself as you try to work out complicated ideas?


OK, say you can find a private room, good broadband, and discipline your unconscious facial expressions – are you clear?


Do you get so anxious from sitting exams that you throw up? Better not lean over to do it.

Do you need to go to the toilet? Maybe because you're recovering from surgery, or on meds? Fail. Do you have a chronic pain condition that requires you to stretch? How can we be sure you're not cheating?

But say you manage to sit perfectly still, eyes locked on your screen, mouth and urethra clamped shut, in an empty room suffused with the strong, invisible waves of powerful wifi signal.

Do you have brown skin? Ooh, sorry.

Proctorio's facial recognition "AI" struggles with dark skin. No worries, though: parents of brown and Black kids help them succeed in education by shining multiple task lights directly in their faces while they write their exams. When life gives you SARS, make sarsaparilla!

Despite all of this, Proctorio continues to attract customers, often publicly funded universities, who have showered it in money. To keep those money-faucets gushing, the company has to keep its critics' mouths shut.

Which is how the company's CEO came to dox a child who complained about his product in a Reddit forum (don't worry, the company told The Guardian that they "take privacy seriously").

But it's not just students that Proctorio tries to terrorize into silence – it's the employees of educational institutions, the people whose job it is to assess products like Proctorio and help instructors integrate them into their teaching.

People like Ian Linkletter, an ed-tech specialist at UBC who was sued by Proctoriofor linking to its publicly accessible training materials while pointing out how Proctorio's claims about fairness and privacy were belied by its own documentation.

The suit was a pure SLAPP, a bid to use obviously bogus legal theories in a bid to intimidate a critic into silence. Linkletter didn't fold – he fundraised tens of thousands of dollars and fought them in court – and won.

Now, after 18-odd months of pandemic profiteering, the riches they coronagrifted off the misery of children, especially poor and racialized children, are in danger. For one thing, it's becoming undeniable that remote proctoring is bullshit.

High-stakes testing is already pedagogically bankrupt, but when you add in remote spyware, it descends into (blisteringly expensive, absolutely terrifying) farce. It's morally, technologically and educationally indefensible.

Major customers like the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are ditching Proctorio after mass student uprisings.

The company is getting desperate. This week, all of the user reviews for the Proctorio plug-in in the Google Chrome Store disappeared. We knew that Proctorio is awfully think-skinned about criticism, but this is next-level poopy-diaper-baby tantrum stuff.

Because those reviews were…not a good look. We know that because Ian Linkletter scraped them, sorted and highlighted them, and preserved them. He calls them the Proctorio Papers. You can read them here:

The disappearance corresponded with Linkletter's open letter to his senators (he's a US citizen) asking them to investigate Proctorio's corrupt practices. I'm sure it's just a coincidence.


Cryteria (modified)


(Image: Cryteria, CC BY, modified)

This day in history (permalink)

#1yrago Political ads have very small effect-sizes

#1yrago CO asphyxiation accounts for half of Hurricane Laura deaths

#1yrago Physicists overestimate their epidemiology game

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources:

Currently writing:

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. Sept 3's progress: 265 words (19067 words total)

  • A Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. PLANNING

  • A nonfiction book about excessive buyer-power in the arts, co-written with Rebecca Giblin, "The Shakedown." FINAL EDITS

  • A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause." FINISHED

  • A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

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  • The Shakedown, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics, Beacon Press 2022

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"When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla" -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla