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Accused of Cheating by an Algorithm, and a Professor She Had Never Met


Keeping test takers honest has become a multimillion-dollar industry, but Honorlock and its competitors, including ExamSoft, ProctorU and Proctorio, have faced major blowback along the way: widespread activism, media reports on the technology’s prob

Credit: Ariel Davis

A Florida teenager taking a biology class at a community college got an upsetting note this year. A start-up called Honorlock had flagged her as acting suspiciously during an exam in February. She was, she said in an email to The New York Times, a Black woman who had been "wrongfully accused of academic dishonesty by an algorithm."

What happened, however, was more complicated than a simple algorithmic mistake. It involved several humans, academic bureaucracy and an automated facial detection tool from Amazon called Rekognition. Despite extensive data collection, including a recording of the girl, 17, and her screen while she took the test, the accusation of cheating was ultimately a human judgment call: Did looking away from the screen mean she was cheating?

The pandemic was a boom time for companies that remotely monitor test takers, as it became a public health hazard to gather a large group in a room. Suddenly, millions of people were forced to take bar exams, tests and quizzes alone at home on their laptops. To prevent the temptation to cheat, and catch those who did, remote proctoring companies offered web browser extensions that detect keystrokes and cursor movements, collect audio from a computer's microphone, and record the screen and the feed from a computer's camera, bringing surveillance methods used by law enforcement, employers and domestic abusers into an academic setting.

From The New York Times
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