KYLIEBYTES: I am not giving Sac State access to my webcam

Kylie Robison

I’m Kylie Robison and this is KYLIEBYTES, a column where I talk about technology and its impact on society. Follow me on Twitter @kylie_robison for more.

Friday morning, Sacramento State announced that we will be using a new proctoring software called Respondus Monitor.

By downloading this software, you agree to allow this company to record various data from your laptop’s webcam, which includes your video, audio and how long it takes you to answer a question. 

Allowing a third party unfettered access to cameras in your home is commonly-known poor security practice, especially when it involves your education. Not to mention, I’m not letting my professors watch me in my home. 

RELATED: Sac State to use tool that records students to proctor online exams

I’ve been fairly distressed by Sac State’s security practices during the stay-at-home orders. Zoom is already regarded as having poor security — so much so that the state agency I work for has not permitted the use of it. I understand Sac State is scrambling for solutions, but they’re an institution with the resources to critically think about these situations.

Respondus Monitor has an accessible privacy policy, which I encourage everyone to review before agreeing to this. This document states that they can and will give your information to law enforcement if a subpoena is presented, so if you’re an undocumented immigrant or live with undocumented immigrants, Sac State is putting you at risk. 

The application’s terms of use also states “your institution disclaims responsibility or liability for the accuracy, content, completeness, legality, reliability, operability or availability of information or data in the Respondus Monitor Service or Software.”

That’s a pretty nifty sentence for someone who might be put in legal danger due to Sac State’s negligence to properly vet and choose software for their students.

Data transmission online is the reason cyber security exists, and if those professionals vehemently disagree with third-party camera access in schools, why are we allowing this at our institution?

I’ve taken online classes at both Sac State and in the Los Rios Community College District, and have never been asked for camera access. We are adults, and if this school wants to provide us the “best education,” they need to keep our safety in mind.

The terms of use explicitly say, “by agreeing to these terms, you agree to use Respondus Monitor at your own risk, and agree that Respondus shall not be liable if a security breach occurs, if the site malfunctions, or if information is misused or mismanaged in any way to your detriment or the detriment of a student or third party, whether by Respondus, your institution or an unauthorized third party.”

Data transmission online is never a perfect scenario, and that is why data breaches occur quite often — and why somebody should be able to be held responsible when students are harmed.

With only a few weeks of the semester left, implementing this technology is a fool’s errand. I’m not risking my private information because Sac State does not trust its students to complete the semester. These scenarios that we’ve been forced into by a pandemic are less than satisfactory.

Especially as a female student, my first thoughts were the uncomfortable interactions I’ve experienced with male professors. When I’m taking exams in person, I know what that professor is doing.

When they’re behind a computer with access to our cameras, there is nothing I can do to stop them from acting inappropriately. Whether that is taking pictures of us, or anything more sinister, we have no control. That’s not something I should have to be worried about when taking an exam.

It doesn’t stop there. By accepting the terms of use in this application, you are allowing Respondus Monitor to collect “random samples” for “research” that improves the quality of the application. Which means, not only can this company use your video and audio, they can give it to researchers. In no way is this a practical solution to cheating, and it’s disappointing to think Sac State is allowing this type of application into our educational process.

At the end of the day, I’m severely saddened, as a business information systems student, at this school. Everything I’m taught about computers and security has been thrown out the window because Sac State does not trust us as students.

When we feared for our lives, President Robert Nelsen endorsed the idea we just wanted a reason to get out of school. With classes fully online for over a month, and COVID-19 deaths still rising in the U.S, it’s clear that Sac State has not made student safety a priority. I’m discouraged now more than ever, that this school will continue this pattern of negligence. I encourage you all to think carefully before allowing this type of software into your home.