This is Open Dialogue, an interview series from OneZero about technology and ethics.
During the pandemic, educational technology companies experienced a 900% increase in business once schools started shutting down campuses and restricting visitors. These companies swooped in with A.I.-infused software designed to prevent students from cheating. These proctoring algorithms can verify who is taking an exam through facial verification. They can also monitor test-takers, scrutinizing their behavior for signs of irregularities that might indicate cheating, like looking away from the screen.
Critics contend the software promotes unfairness, invasions of privacy, and unduly inflicted anxiety. The situation is so dire that the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a public interest research organization, filed a complaint with the D.C. attorney general’s office against some leading companies: Proctorio, ProctorU, Honorlock, Examity, and Respondus.
Once the pandemic ends, everything won’t go back to normal. Controversial ed-tech software will remain an essential testing infrastructure if the fight against it doesn’t intensify. Crucially, we need to consider the long-term impacts of forcing students to conform to these systems. Lindsay Oliver, an activism project manager at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, worries that educational surveillance might have enduring negative repercussions. She’s concerned that students subjected to current forms of educational monitoring “may well be less likely to rebel against spyware deployed by their bosses at work or by abusive partners.”
To get to the root of these problems, take stock of the damage, and explore possible solutions, I’m thrilled to talk with Chris Gilliard, a professor of English at Macomb Community College. Chris is a leading voice in surveillance studies, and much of his work focuses on the intersections between privacy, civil liberties, race, class, and technology. Over the years, regular conversations with Chris about the disparate impacts of surveillance and the misalignments between corporate priorities and the values a liberal democracy should prioritize have profoundly influenced my thinking…