An Exam Surveillance Company Is Trying to Silence Critics With Lawsuits

In August, as colleges and universities prepared for a fall semester that would mark the biggest experiment in online learning in history, Ian Linkletter, a learning technology specialist at the University of British Columbia, began researching Proctorio, the exam proctoring software many of the instructors at the school planned to use. Now, after tweeting an analysis critical of the software, Linkletter has become the target of a lawsuit, and says he has drained his savings while fighting back against the company's attempts to silence him.
“I was surprised it was happening to me, but not surprised this company was doing it,” Linkletter told Motherboard. As use of digital proctoring software has exploded as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, so too has the criticism of those tools. But no company has been quite as aggressive in its response to criticism as Proctorio. Linkletter, who has been working in the field of educational technology for 13 years, generally considers himself a proponent of software designed to improve the school experience. But what he found while researching Proctorio concerned him, along with many other educators and college students who are rebelling against Proctorio and similar algorithmic proctoring software. They argue that the tools are an unacceptable invasion of privacy and are destined to cause institutional discrimination against students who are marginalized, low-income, neurodiverse, or don’t otherwise fit the software developers’ definition of normal. Over several days in August, Linkletter became a vociferous critic of Proctorio, tweeting out his thoughts alongside Proctorio’s training videos for instructors, which detailed how the software’s algorithms flag students for “abnormal” behavior during exams. Within a matter of hours of his tweets, the videos disappeared from YouTube—the first sign that Proctorio was paying attention to him.
Then, in early September, Linkletter got a call from a reporter at the Vancouver Sun. Proctorio was suing him for copyright infringement over the tweets. Without Linkletter knowing the case had been initiated, the Supreme Court of British Columbia had granted the company’s request for an injunction barring Linkletter from sharing what Proctorio described as confidential information about its software.

“All my personal savings and emergency savings went into funding the first part of my defense for this lawsuit”

Linkletter’s case is the highest profile—and most financially damaging—example of the company’s tactics. On Oct. 16, he filed his response to the lawsuit, accusing Proctorio of initiating a type of case known as a strategic lawsuit against public participation, or SLAPP, which is designed to punish and discourage public criticism.

“All my personal savings and emergency savings went into funding the first part of my defense for this lawsuit,” Linkletter said. “I understand the significance of this. I understand what’s at stake if someone can’t speak. I take all of that very seriously and I’m going to do everything in my power to win.” Since the filing of his response to the lawsuit, a crowdfunding campaign to support Linkletter’s defense has raised more than $25,000.

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