Pearson and surveillance of students

Pearson is apparently monitoring social media, to detect signs of cheating during exams. That’s insanely creepy, and a horrible violation.

“And for those who think "Well, its Twitter, its public", remember this: So is walking down the street. But is it OK for the government to monitor us with street surveillance cameras and send us fines for not crossing with the crosswalk?”

via Pearson Caught Spying On Students. Big Brother Is Here.

I’m going to go on record with this: I will do everything I can to prevent this kind of surveillance culture at my university. Thankfully, we have a highly student-centric administration, and I can’t imagine something like this taking hold on our campus. But, we have recurring requests from instructors for TurnItIn or similar tools, which I see as the thin edge of the wedge leading to Pearson and Tracx. (their whitepaper bragging about this stuff is down, and a version of that whitepaper archived in 2014 only mentions staff use of social media)

With Pearson pushing into the LMS with textbook integrations (and now, SIS integration as well), this stuff makes me really nervous. This takes Creepy Treehouse to a whole new level.

on the Pearson/edublogs brouhaha

So it looks like Pearson sent a DMCA takedown notice to edublogs and their hosting provider. And edublogs’ hosting provider crumbled and took down 1.4 million websites in response.

To be clear, Pearson didn’t take anything down. I’m guessing a legal intern or bot followed an algorithm (search for known strings, run a Whois,
send email…). And the hosting provider, who should have told the legal intern to frack off and take their silly misguided takedown requests with them, decided to turn off websites rather than having to risk paying their own lawyers to fight the request.

This isn’t new. Companies with lawyers on the payroll can afford to bully companies that can’t afford to have lawyers on the payroll. It’s easier for the hosting provider to disable an account than to fight a takedown request. And it’s easier for edublogs to nuke a blog rather than take Pearson to court.

There were four failures in this case:

  1. Pearson, for being copyright douchebags
  2. The hosting provider, for being pussies and caving in rather than protecting their client.
  3. edublogs, for taking the dispute public rather than simply fighting it. They could have done both, but it looks like they caved and went public to try to win moral support.
  4. A legal system that rewards parties that can afford their own legal team while penalizing parties that can’t. If it’s too expensive or risky to fight a silly or unfair takedown request, the system is broken.