News from the Free Software Foundation 5/15/2020
As countries around the world are beginning their long and slow recovery
from the coronavirus, schools and universities may have to continue their
struggle to give their students a quality education while using remote
communication services until the end of the year.
With the need to continue classes and exams, school administrators have
ended up relying on proprietary conference tools like Zoom to stay connected, and are unfortunately turning to contracting proctoring businesses with names like
The increased use of proprietary test-administering software is a dangerous development, both because of the software's proprietary nature, and because of its inherent purpose of exposing a student's, or in some cases a family's, data to the
proctor. In schemes like these, the user ends up sacrificing both personal
information and biometric data. Because the software is proprietary, there's
no possibility of understanding how it works -- besides leaking personal
data, it could also create security concerns or deliver bad quality tests
(and results). Requiring students to cede control over their entire computer
to a test proctoring company is fundamentally unjust. Worse, we cannot be
sure that any of these nonfree software dependencies and their accompanying
surveillance techniques will be rolled back after social distancing
guidelines are no longer enforced.
It is important that decisions made in the education sector are first and
foremost ethically motivated. Here at the Free Software Foundation (FSF), we
have started a free communications working group. Initiatives include a
remote communication email list as well as a collaborative resource page
for documenting and sharing free communication tools to help spread awareness of the ethical choices that /can/ be made. We have also been assisting educational
professionals in offering their classes online using only free software. And
we have been reading many stories about activism in education from the
larger community, and want to share those with you. They have inspired and
motivated us. We need more people like this around the world to be vocal and
critical about infringements on user freedom in the area of remote learning.
Students revolt against online proctoring
As educational institutions are scrambling to offer remote learning, online
proctoring companies will likely be used well into the fall. These
businesses require students to identify themselves with valid ID, and then
give consent to access their browser history. Of course, the "consent" is
hardly meaningful, since the student is not given the option to take their
test without monitoring, so this means that they either submit to monitoring
or flunk their exam.
The students are made to give a tour of their bedroom, desk, and anything
the proctor demands, in order to establish a "cheat-safe" environment. The
students are also forced to waive their rights so the company can record
their webcams and microphones, the student's keystrokes, screen, mouse
movements, and even facial expressions.
Students are also forced to consent to the organization's right to retain
much of what they gather from students’ computers and bedrooms. /The Daily
Mail/ reports that "Examity's fine print notes that students handed over
their data 'at their own risk' because 'no data protection procedures are
Reports have centered around added stress for the students
https://dailycampus.com/stories/2020/4/17/students-worried-about-online-exams-with-webcam-monitoring and inequality issues
as well as (naturally) privacy concerns
Cory Doctorow https://twtext.com/article/1252225044861693954 highlighted
the issue that the software, by design, allows the organization to hijack
the student's hardware, leaving it outside their control, even after the
exam is finished, or when the user wants it to stop.
But students in Australia took matters into their own hands, forcing
institutions and global media to recognize the issue at hand. Thirteen
groups from the Australian National University (ANU) wrote an open letter
calling for the university to find an alternative approach that is
acceptable for all students. And once the ANU open letter gained some
traction in media, other Australian student groups
followed their lead. The Washington Post reports that a faculty group in California also recognized that the privacy and digital rights of their students could not be sacrificed for the purpose of the "expediency of a take-home final exam." In the Netherlands, students of the University of Tilburg started a petition against
the use of proctoring software, which is currently signed almost 5,000 times.
Free conferencing video implementations for classes
We have seen many reports on the dangers of using proprietary conferencing
tools like Zoom recently. Zoom has gotten enough negative attention that New York City
banned Zoom usage by schools, sadly in favor of the equally dangerous nonfree Microsoft Teams .
Now, the recently launched Facebook Messenger Rooms service is
also receiving its fair share of criticism. But there is hope yet, as some
governments and institutions are expressing concerns and are actively
looking to preserve people's freedom.
In Italy, WeSchool , an organization dedicated to the digitization of Italian schools, decided to opt for Jitsi Meet over proprietary tools like Zoom to help teachers bring their
classes online. MayFirst.org offers free use of Jitsi on their servers too. We don't know the full extent of their commitment to
freedom, but their effort to provide a platform for teachers aiming to
respect the student's freedom, now that videoconferencing is such an
significant part of education, is laudable. Nearly two million students
connect, collaborate, and learn via video with the help of this organization.
And in France, a temporary platform has been built by the French government offering teachers and employees of the French Ministry of National Education access to free software applications like Etherpad, Nextcloud , and Discourse, tools that were also on our recommendation list for free software tools to help us get through social distancing.
In San Antonio de Benageber, near Valencia, Spain, one free software
advocate made a major difference in his community. Javier Sepulveda was
informed by his children's school that they intended to continue teaching
weekly lessons, using proprietary videoconferencing software. Realizing this
was not an isolated decision affecting only his children, Javier turned the
school's choice towards free software instead.
After convincing the teachers, he set up a Jitsi Meet instance on a virtual private
server (VPS) with enough
News from MayFirst.org:
May First Movement Technology is supporting and participating in a national campaign of action starting on May 1 and continuing on each first of the month from now on.
Now, more than ever, this kind of united national action is needed to get us through this crisis and answer the question: What comes next?
May First is part of the coalition and hosts its website at:
The coalition describes itself this way:
"People’s Strike is a growing coalition of workers, community, and political organizations confronting the COVID-19 pandemic by struggling against an inept and corrupt government and the forces of capital (banks, corporations, brokers, etc). that put profit before the people and the planet."
The Campaign's Demands:
The system has failed us. It is in our hands.
Isolation is not always good. Developers deal with it a lot. Sometimes we connect in chat.
Yes, you already own it. You might as well use it!!!!
MayFirst.org has set up an instance of jitsi for everyone to use - nothing to download or install.
Here is a link to chat with free thinkers about projects and ideas that make the world better for us all.
*NOTE: At times the chat room may be empty. You can send a text or email to friends with a link to the chat room https://meet.mayfirst.org/freescholar so they may join. If I am not in the room, invite me too! firstname.lastname@example.org