LockDown Browser is an invading privacy

Illustration by Myah Anglin | The Signal

Midterms are behind us, and finals are almost around the corner. It has taken hours at coffee shops, Zoom meetings and GroupMe to make it this far.

However, Georgia State students have not acclimated the way the university had hoped. The Signal reported that almost 900 more students have withdrawn from a course this semester than fall 2019. 

With COVID-19 being the obvious hurdle, what went wrong in an almost entirely virtual semester? 

According to the Respondus website, “LockDown Browser is a custom browser that locks down the testing environment within a learning management system.”

LockDown Browser has been used long before COVID-19 circumstances. However, as it becomes more relevant than ever, we need to understand its impact on students. 

Test-taking is already stressful. LockDown Browser records your environment, even notifying you when it can no longer detect a face in frame. We may have to attribute LockDown Browser to a lack of success and many students withdrawals.

It may not be worth it to students to take tests this way, especially when grades on tests provide most of the course grade. Furthermore, adding a global pandemic into the mix of it all, the transition to online testing has majorly affected mental health. COVID-19 has been such a whirlwind, and while all of us are struggling, students with preexisting conditions recognize the negative impact LockDown Browser can have. 

“Using LockDown Browser while having unmedicated ADHD has made it hard for me to take tests,” sophomore Katelyn Vercher said. “I fidget and look around a lot during tests usually, but now I can’t do that because the browser flags you and thinks you’re cheating.”

So why use LockDown Browser at Georgia State? Tracy Adkins, director of learning technology at the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, attributes its usage to cost. 

“Currently, Respondus LockDown Browser pricing has a low cost per student for unlimited quizzes, tests and exams on an annual basis. It offers similar features to other, more expensive solutions that would increase the cost for our students.”

LockDown Browser is, unbeknownst to us, costing students. While the cost may be lower than more expensive solutions, is it worth it? 

Respondus, in essence, allows for testing to be monitored at different scales. Teachers have the opportunity to administer tests with or without certain restrictions. Taking a test with Respondus can restrict your ability to open outside tabs, which seems reasonable.

“Information comes from a variety of internal systems used to track tool usage. An external link can’t be provided,” Adkins said. 

While this may seem fair, primarily online students should easily access the data systems are collecting on themselves. If we cannot understand the intent of showing our ID and tracking our eye movement, what does that mean for students’ privacy? 

More answers about our privacy, or lack thereof, may come as we go deeper into this primarily virtual college experience. It is essential to understand what is happening under our noses and what it costs us. 

From mental health to privacy to actual costs, LockDown Browser seems to be a factor in the unsuccessful online integration this semester.