With the sudden shift to remote learning triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, educational institutions rapidly adopted e-proctoring software to maintain academic integrity during online exams. Companies like ExamSoft, Proctorio, and ProctorU became essential tools, using advanced technologies such as facial recognition and AI-driven surveillance to monitor students during tests.

However, the widespread implementation of these technologies has raised significant concerns among students, educators, and privacy advocates, highlighting issues related to technical reliability, bias, and the psychological impact of such intense surveillance.

The Student Experience

Areeb Khan’s Ordeal

Areeb Khan, a prospective tenants’ rights advocate, encountered severe difficulties with ExamSoft during his preparation for the New York Bar Exam. Despite extensive preparations, Khan faced unexpected challenges not with the content of the exam, but with the software itself.

The facial recognition technology failed to recognize his features, which he suspected was due to the poor lighting in his room and potentially exacerbated by his ethnicity. His struggles included multiple adjustments in lighting and calls to technical support, causing significant stress and loss of study time.

Kyle Fowler’s Anxiety

In contrast, Kyle Fowler did not experience technical issues with facial recognition when taking the same exam, but he faced another common concern with e-proctoring software: the anxiety of being constantly watched.

Fowler was particularly worried about being flagged for innocuous activities like shifting in his seat or responding to external noises, which the software might interpret as cheating. This state of heightened alert significantly added to the stress of an already pressure-filled situation.

Comparative Experiences

Both stories illustrate the varying impacts of e-proctoring software on students. While Khan dealt with direct technical failures related to racial bias in facial recognition technology, Fowler experienced the psychological toll of invasive surveillance. These cases highlight the broader issues affecting many students worldwide, underscoring the need for a critical assessment of the technology used in high-stakes academic settings.

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Student with laptop

Technical Challenges and Concerns

Facial Recognition Failures

Technical glitches have been a common complaint among users of e-proctoring software. ExamSoft’s issues with facial recognition, such as those experienced by Khan, have been particularly troubling. These problems are not only disruptive but also raise concerns about the fairness and accessibility of the testing process, especially for people of color or those with disabilities who may interact differently with the technology.

System Crashes and Security Concerns

A more dramatic technical failure occurred during the Michigan Bar Exam in July, where ExamSoft reported a system crash due to a “sophisticated cyberattack.”

This incident delayed the exam for many test-takers, causing widespread frustration and questioning the security measures of such platforms. This event, along with other reported failures, highlights the vulnerabilities and reliability issues inherent in deploying such software at a large scale.

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Racial and Disability Bias in Surveillance Technology

Disproportionate Impact

E-proctoring software has come under scrutiny for how it disproportionately affects people of color and individuals with disabilities. Studies and user reports have indicated that facial recognition algorithms often fail to accurately identify individuals from these groups, leading to increased incidences of login failures and interruptions during exams. Such technical biases not only cause undue stress but also raise serious questions about the equity and inclusivity of these technological solutions.

Company Statements on Technology Effectiveness

In response to these concerns, companies like ExamSoft have asserted that their technology is designed to be equally effective across all demographics. ExamSoft, for example, claims their systems undergo rigorous testing to ensure they do not exhibit racial bias. However, despite these assurances, the experiences of many test-takers reflect ongoing issues with the technology’s ability to fairly and accurately recognize diverse populations.

Industry Response and Defense

Addressing Cheating Concerns

Companies behind e-proctoring software maintain that their products are crucial for upholding academic integrity, especially in a remote learning environment. Proctorio, ExamSoft, and ProctorU argue that their technologies effectively deter and detect cheating by using sophisticated algorithms to monitor test-takers’ behaviors and flag potential irregularities for further review.

Business Growth During the Pandemic

The shift to online education resulted in significant business growth for these companies. ExamSoft expanded its client base from 1,500 in 2019 to over 2,000 institutions by 2021. Similarly, Proctorio facilitated over 20 million exams in 2020, a sharp increase from the previous year. This rapid expansion underscores the high demand for remote monitoring solutions in education during the pandemic.

Student with computer

Advocacy and Backlash Against E-Proctoring

Campaigns by Digital Rights Groups

Fight for the Future and other digital rights groups have been at the forefront of advocating against the use of e-proctoring software. These organizations argue that such technologies infringe on personal privacy and normalize a culture of surveillance. Their campaigns have garnered support from over 20 other groups, pushing for educational institutions to reconsider their reliance on these tools.

Privacy Advocates’ Concerns

Privacy experts have echoed these sentiments, emphasizing the dangers of allowing such invasive technology into students’ homes. They warn that the software sets a precedent for what is acceptable in terms of monitoring individuals, thereby extending beyond its intended use and potentially breaching users’ rights to privacy.

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Institutional Responses and Future Prospects

Moving Away from E-Proctoring

In response to mounting criticisms and technological failings, several universities have begun to phase out the use of e-proctoring software. For instance, the University of Illinois announced that its contract with Proctorio would conclude after the Summer 2021 term, primarily due to student feedback concerning privacy, data security, and equity issues.

Similarly, Cabrillo College and the University of California, Santa Barbara have taken steps to end their relationships with e-proctoring providers, citing invasions of privacy and technical flaws that compromise the fairness of assessments.

Future Plans for Remote Assessments

Educational institutions are increasingly exploring alternative assessment methods that are less reliant on surveillance technologies. Many are considering a combination of open-book exams, project-based evaluations, and oral exams that can reduce the need for stringent proctoring while still maintaining academic integrity.

These changes reflect a broader shift towards assessing students in ways that emphasize understanding and application of knowledge rather than rote memorization under high-pressure conditions.

Alternatives to E-Proctoring

Suggested Alternative Assessment Methods

As the educational sector seeks to move away from invasive monitoring, several alternative methods have gained traction. These include:

  • Take-home exams that allow students to demonstrate mastery of material at their own pace within a set timeframe.
  • Project-based assessments where students undertake research or practical projects that are more reflective of real-world applications.
  • Oral examinations conducted via video conferencing, allowing for real-time interaction and assessment without invasive monitoring.

The Future of Remote Learning and Exam Administration

The transition away from e-proctoring is likely to continue as institutions develop more holistic and trusting relationships with their student bodies. This shift could pave the way for a new paradigm in remote education, one that prioritizes student engagement and intrinsic motivation over surveillance and control.


The debate over e-proctoring software encapsulates a critical tension between the need for academic integrity and the rights to privacy and fair treatment. While e-proctoring software offered a solution to a sudden and unprecedented shift to remote learning, the backlash against its use highlights significant concerns about privacy, equity, and the psychological impact on students.

As we move forward, the challenge for educational technology will be to develop tools and practices that support effective learning and assessment without compromising the ethical standards and trust that are fundamental to educational success.

The long-term implications of how we choose to navigate this balance will shape the future of educational technology, potentially leading to more innovative and inclusive approaches to remote learning and assessment.

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Fintecology Editorial Team

The Fintecology Editorial Team is comprised of a diverse group of business-minded, tech enthusiasts and experts, dedicated to bringing you the most accurate, insightful, and up-to-date information. With a collective passion for technology and innovation, our team ensures each article meets rigorous standards of quality and relevance. We strive to demystify complex technological and business concepts, making them accessible to everyone, from curious beginners to seasoned professionals.

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