Students at the Australian National University and other Australian educational institutions have signed up with US "invigilation" companies that produce anti-cheating spyware for students' computers. Students and faculty are furious.

There are lots of reasons not to like this stuff. I wrote a whole article about it last week:

In short:

* These aren't necessarily "student" laptops - they're often family laptops, shared among many members of a household, and constituting the family's only lifeline to employment, social activity, education, romance, political and civic engagement, etc.

* Invigilation software, by design, runs even when the owner of the computer tries to stop it from running, and also by design, does not reveal how it works or what measures it takes to keep from being abused

* By design, invigilation software inspects every file on the computer, covertly operates the camera and mic - some even sniffs network traffic to explore other devices on the same wifi network and ensure none of those are being used to aid cheaters

* Invigilation software isn't any more secure than other software that is sold to a customer (university IT departments) for mandatory use by someone else (university students)

* University IT is busier than they have ever, ever been, and are also potentially losing key staff to illness or even death due to the pandemic. IT staff are working remotely and hamstrung when it comes to securing their systems (and they weren't good at it to begin with)

* If the back-ends of the invigilation tools are compromised, attackers will have the run of students' (and students' families') laptops, including rummaging for employer trade secrets, details for bank and telemedicine logins, and even remote camera/mic access.

So yeah, these are a terrible idea at the best of times, and a catastrophic, irresponsible, reckless and unforgivable idea right now.

They also are a stark highlight of how much Australian tertiary education relies upon pedagogically discredited, useless high-stakes tests.

Meanwhile, ANU has produced a hilarious "privacy impact statement" that blithely concludes that "no personal information is sent to or held in the system" and "no third parties will have access to or be provided with the personal information."

It's like we asked them what steps they're taking to fight coronavirus transmission at their grocery store and their answer is "No one will have coronavirus in our store, and if they do, they won't exhale."

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