Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

I-Spy: Proctortrack as the University Panopticon

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Western chapter.

Proctortrack, a remote proctoring application used to facilitate supposedly honest remote test-taking, has been raising red flags across Ontario university campuses, and in particular at Western. The software has been widely adopted as a result of the pandemic; it enables professors to administer closed-book exams for their students without worries of cheating. Students, however, are extremely unhappy with the software. Proctortrack has become a common talking point on Western student social media, the subject of multiple articles in The Gazette, and even the driving issue behind a petition with over 10,000 signatures. For the most part, both Western University and Verificient ‒ Proctortrack’s parent company ‒ though they acknowledge concerns over the program’s invasiveness, are at a loss as to why students are so upset. The answer is pretty simple: Proctortrack is invasive, untrustworthy, and, quite frankly, downright creepy. 

How so? Let’s unpack these claims.

The main concerns about Proctortrack include the level of personal information collected, as well as the security of said information. To begin, the kinds of things collected are enough to make anyone feel a little 1984. First, you must scan your photo ID, which, in this case, is your student card. This is concerning, as it means that Proctortrack is compiling an independent database of student numbers. These numbers, on par with identifiers such as your SIN, are considered sensitive information. In addition to photo ID, your face is also scanned and recorded for the entirety of the exam. This is done to confirm that it really is you taking the evaluation, as well as to ensure that you aren’t reading notes or receiving help from others in the room during the exam. Not only is this recording of your face saved and stored completely outside of students’ access, but Proctortrack’s AI also tracks and evaluates the patterns of your eye movements to flag the recording for your professor in the case of any behaviour considered abnormal. The sound from your microphone is also recorded and stored.

If a recording of your face wasn’t considered enough identifying information, students are also required to scan their knuckles for additional biometric authentication. A bizarre request to say the least, this raises a few questions: Why knuckles? Do any other companies use knuckles to confirm identity? And, most importantly, if this was a legitimate form of personal identification, why has no one ever heard of it before? 

In addition to collecting and storing student biometric information, Proctortrack also logs all keystrokes and requires users to disable their antivirus software and firewalls so the program can run uninterrupted. Though this is necessary for Proctortrack’s operation (as, naturally, its invasiveness sets off most antivirus and firewall protections), it means that, at the very least, Verificent has no concern over what students should do about digital security while they have the program installed. 

Proctortrack’s invasive surveillance calls to mind Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon. A prison designed to put its inmates under threat of constant surveillance, the Panopticon causes prisoners to self-police their behaviour. With Proctortrack, students’ recordings aren’t necessarily going to be reviewed by their professor, but they always could be if Proctortrack flags their behaviour as “abnormal.” By threatening to punish any student whose actions don’t fit into some arbitrary pattern that Proctortrack’s AI has established as algorithmically standard, students are burdened with incredible and unnecessary stress. Not only do they need to focus on the material being tested, but they need to monitor and adjust their behaviour during the testing process ‒ down to their very eye movements. It is not enough to merely be innocent ‒ students must also perform the part of “the biometrically-proven innocent” for the software watching them.

The concern lies not only with the information Proctortrack collects, but also in what Verificent does with it. In their privacy policy, Verificent states that Proctortrack keeps biometric information (your individual face and knuckle scans, etc.) for 180 days after they are recorded. Personal information (including the source reference for your face and knuckle scans, as well as your photo ID) is kept for an entire year. They claim not to store information such as keystrokes at all. However, Proctortrack has reneged on its promise to delete student data within predetermined timeframes in the past, leaving students to wonder what information Proctortrack is holding onto, even once they delete the software from their computer. 

These fears are not unfounded. This past October, Western students were notified of a “security breach” on Verificent’s servers. There was a complete lack of transparency from the company; they refused to specify which clients were affected, and to what extent. They claimed that no personal information was accessed, but with a reputation for collection of invasive information and a dodginess about where and for how long they keep the data, Verificent’s promises are hardly reassuring. For a company that collects and stores names, photo IDs, student numbers, and biometrics, they do a poor job of reassuring consumers that they are capable of protecting such sensitive information. 

All of these complaints lead one to wonder: why exactly is Western continuing to use Proctortrack, even after all the complaints and the security breach? The answer, unfortunately, is because it’s free for the University. Western makes it clear that they will continue to use Proctortrack until it is no longer free.

It is alarming that during the current time, Western chooses to place its finances so transparently above student wishes and concerns. This puts students into an unfortunate bind, forced to question what they value more ‒ their education or their personal security. One would hope that today’s troubling climate would push Western to showcase its compassion for the students it relies upon and serves. Unfortunately, the university has yet to step up to the task, missing out on the opportunity to set the standard for how a prestigious institution should value its students over the slimmest cutback on university expenses.

Related Articles

Want more HCW? Check us out on social media!


Sophia Belyk

Western '21

Sophia is a fourth year student at Western University studying communications and technology. She loves horror books, non-horror video games, cats, and examining how technology and society intersect, for better or for worse.
Disha Rawal

Western '21

Disha is a fourth year student pursuing an Honours Specialization in Neuroscience. She has been on Her Campus Western's editorial team for the past two years. This year, she is one of the chapter's Campus Correspondents. In her free time, Disha enjoys journaling, painting and watching Youtube videos.