Onerous Honorlock: UW cannot justify using malware in effort to proctor students

With applications such as Honorlock gaining popularity in UW, its use remains questionable in terms of ethicality, security

· Sep 16, 2020 Tweet

Marissa Haegele/The Badger Herald

Almost a month into the fall semester — perhaps more accurately known as Zoom University — faculty has begun testing ways to preserve academic integrity during online classes. As basic economics dictates, with demand comes supply. With universities seeking any and all ways to prevent students from cheating come online tools achieving just that. One such program is a Google extension known as Honorlock.

Honorlock is currently being used in several UW classes, including Math 221 and Math 222. It is, simply put, malware disguised as a means of preventing academic dishonesty. Once installed, students must enable their cameras, audio and enable Honorlock to screen record for the duration of the test. Once the test has been completed, the student can delete Honorlock from their browser.

At face value, this doesn’t seem all bad. It makes sense for teachers to want to ensure students are taking their test in the fairest manner possible. But Honorlock takes additional liberties that grossly invade student privacy, including monitoring the entire internet network to ensure students are not using a secondary device to cheat.

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Honorlock’s terms and conditions explicitly state “our technology is able to match this activity to a particular Student based on the Student’s location, the time the Student commenced the Exam, and the specific question on the Exam that was searched. In addition to recording the Secondary Device activity, we may also collect information from your Secondary Device, such as your IP address, user agent, browser, and device type. This means for the entire duration of the test, Honorlock can view all internet activity from all devices that aren’t yours so long as they are connected to the same network.”

Not only does this seem like an extreme breach of privacy, but it could jeopardize other people’s security that use the same Wi-Fi connection as the student. For example, if a student has parents who use the internet to access sensitive information for their jobs, that information may be compromised and could even jeopardize their careers.

Like many computer programs, Honorlock is inundated with bugs and other issues making it susceptible to being hacked and as a result, compromising student information. Additionally, it uses third party applications such as Inspectlet, which is what is used to record a student’s network activity. If either Honorlock or Inspectlet were to get hacked, student information will be compromised through those means as well.

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Honorlock’s bugs have also made it extremely difficult — if not downright impossible — for many students to take their exam in the first place, as a result earning itself a one-star rating on Google Chrome. So, Honorlock has managed to fail at the most basic purpose of its existence — letting students take their tests.

Not only this, faculty is simply trusting Honorlock to maintain our privacy as students when they have no real consequence for not doing so. In just a few days, TikTok, a Chinese app, is set to be banned in the U.S. due to violating privacy laws. While people will say this was a sufficient consequence for TikTok, the damage has already been done. Millions of people have had their data compromised as a result of downloading and viewing this app. And we’re seeing it happen again, just in the form of an online proctoring program.

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I, like many students, understand the need to have programs that deter students from cheating. In an ideal world, students wouldn’t cheat at all and faculty wouldn’t have to use online proctoring to monitor students. But UW doesn’t have to resort to using what is essentially malware and a gross invasion of privacy to ensure students don’t cheat.

As several UW leaders including Chancellor Rebecca Blank have said, we are living in an unprecedented time. Right now, students are struggling with the added demands that come with online learning and the new health guidelines. As such, UW should be making an effort to make online learning accessible and most importantly, safe for students — both health-wise and academically.

Honorlock should be banned from use. Rather, UW should use less invasive software or other means to ensure students don’t cheat.


This article was published Sep 16, 2020 at 5:58 pm and last updated Sep 16, 2020 at 5:58 pm


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