September 2, 2021 – Letter to Senators

September 2nd, 2021

Dear Senators Murray, Cantwell, Blumenthal, Wyden, Van Hollen, Smith, Warren, and Booker,

My name is Ian Linkletter. I was born in Washington and am registered to vote in that state. I am also Canadian, and live in Vancouver, BC, Canada. For the past 10 years, I’ve worked at The University of British Columbia (UBC) as a Learning Technology Specialist.

I am writing to share information pertinent to your investigation of Proctorio, Incorporated and companies like it.

Proctorio is academic surveillance software. Proctorio watches and records students as they take exams online. It utilizes opaque algorithms to monitor their behaviour and draw conclusions about every student’s “Suspicion Level”. Millions of students have been forced to subject themselves to Proctorio and other forms of “e-proctoring” surveillance during the pandemic. They are reporting harm at a massive scale.

Listen to students, and they will tell you:

  1. Proctorio is emotionally harmful. Journalists from The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The New Yorker have documented heartbreaking student experiences. If this were human subject research, it would have been cancelled long ago.
  2. Proctorio doesn’t work right. Proctorio’s algorithms make decisions about whether a student can access their exam, whether they are forcibly removed from it, and on a scale of 0-100, the “Suspicion Level” of each student. This is based on a count of so-called “Abnormalities” detected by the software. Students of colour and students with disabilities are disproportionally affected by the biases inherent in Proctorio’s proprietary algorithms. There’s a word for that: discrimination.
  3. Proctorio is an invasion of privacy. Proctorio requires students to undergo invasive surveillance. They are forced to install software with far-reaching permissions into their computer, perform “Room Scans”, and have their face, screen, and audio recorded. Further, Proctorio has not been transparent about how it works. They claim in their lawsuit against me that if students knew how it worked, they could cheat. This is unethical. If students don’t know how it works, how will they know if they should disclose a private medical condition that could be flagged by Proctorio’s algorithms? And what of due process? How can students defend themselves if wrongly accused? Forced use makes this invasion of privacy even more egregious.

On August 14th, 2021, I read all 2,058 of Proctorio’s user reviews in the Google Chrome Web Store. They are overwhelmingly negative – the extension has a one star average out of five. I have attached them in a complete, combined, text-searchable file called proctorio.pdf. I can provide all my original screenshots – or you can read the reviews yourself online.

I flagged over 1600 instances of students reporting emotional harm, technical faults, and invasion of privacy. This is so you can make decisions about what to do about Proctorio.

In the reviews, hundreds of students complain that Proctorio works poorly, or not at all. This is a serious issue. Academic integrity is compromised when students are not guaranteed a stable testing environment. Faulty technology cheats students out of an equal opportunity.

In yellow, I highlighted terms related to emotional harm: words such as “stress”, “nightmare”, “anxious”, and “panic attack”. A recent report from the University of Texas at Austin describes use of Proctorio and software like it as having “psychological costs”. Here they are. I’ve attached this flagged copy of the reviews as Proctorio Google Reviews – Yellow Flags.pdf.

In orange, I highlighted terms related to the reliability and quality of the software (“glitchy”, “unreliable”, “doesn’t work”, “terrible”, “horrible”, “locked out”, “kicked out”, “crashed”, etc.). This is very important. When technology doesn’t work well, it can create barriers for students. When algorithmic technology doesn’t work well, it can be a form of discrimination. Proctorio claims their AI surveillance software “eliminates human error and bias“. This is inhumane. Please see Proctorio Google Reviews – Orange Flags.pdf, attached.

In red, I highlighted terms related to Constitutionally-protected rights: “invasion of privacy”, “violation of privacy”, “invasive”, “intrusive”, “forced to use”, and so on. It is shocking! Search for “invasion of privacy” and you will find 398 results. Search for “federal government” to find Proctorio claiming that academic surveillance software is mandated by the government. Is this true? I have attached Proctorio Google Reviews – Red Flags.pdf for you to review and decide.

So, what of these 2,058 reviews? Proctorio may try to convince you that all these students are fakes or liars. Be suspicious of that claim. Proctorio needs institutions to distrust students so they will continue to buy their academic surveillance software. Proctorio needs you to do the same so they can continue to sell it. Students need you to believe them and help them.

Criticizing Proctorio is not without its perils. One year ago, on September 2nd, 2020, I was personally sued here by Proctorio. I had been criticizing them online, and they had eyes on me. They monitor and record my every statement on social media. When I shared links to publicly-accessible training videos Proctorio uploaded to YouTube, they struck me with a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). The windfall profits they have obtained during the COVID-19 pandemic have emboldened them to go after their critics, and they will not stop until you stop them.

I hope the information I have provided is useful to your investigation.


Ian Linkletter

You can download this letter.