How I Chose Privacy and Freedom for my Personal Education and Why

The article below was written after I took Harvard's online copyright course (http://copyx.org/). I passed the final test and participated in the Bulletin Board and mailing lists, but ultimately failed the course because the class requires all students to install and run freedom-denying, privacy-disrespecting Adobe Connect in order to pass the course, and I refused to do this. Originally, I was asked to write this article for another blog, but it was never published in that blog. It is published here on LibreBoston for the first time.

I was reminded about this article because the Copyright X course has opened registration for its course in 2017 which can be found HERE: http://brk.mn/applycx17 

I thought the class is worth taking and I would recommend anyone to take the course. However, if you do take the course, I recommend that you follow in my steps detailed below for the sake of your freedom and privacy.

[START: How I Chose Privacy and Freedom for my Personal Education and
Why -- by Devin Ulibarri; Musician, Educator, and Privacy-in-Education
Advocate]
How I Chose Freedom and Privacy for my Personal Education and Why –
Devin Ulibarri © 2015 CC BY-ND 4.0

We are now in an era where we must ask ourselves what role technology
should play in education. Every day the behavior and choices of
teachers, students, and administrators is sculpting what we see as
"normal" with regard to education policy. This article will outline the
story of a personal choice I made as a student of Harvard's Online
CopyrightX class in order to protect my privacy and autonomy.

I received a notification for an Online extension course through Harvard
on Copyright from a friend. A few months later, I was rewarded with a
message in my inbox saying that I was accepted to enroll in the course.
I put the important dates for the class in my calender and prepared for
the class.

Shortly thereafter, I received a notice that an account had been created
for me (and not by me) with Adobe Connect in order to participate in
real-time seminars with other classmates and the teaching aid for my
class section[1]. This service is hosted outside of Harvard through
Adobe Systems Inc. (https://www.adobe.com/products/adobeconnect.html)
and requires their proprietary software client to be downloaded and
installed onto the student's personal computer[2].

This classroom policy causes two big issues for privacy protection in
education. First, a student's personal information would be shared with
a company unrelated to the Harvard Copyright X class for which they are
enrolled. Second, it puts pressure on students to install and use
software that—because of its proprietary nature is an attack on their
personal computing freedoms—which, in turn, threatens their privacy even
more (Read more about software libre and its implications for privacy at
https://www.fsf.org/bulletin/2013/fall/how-can-free-software-protect-us-from-surveillance).

I refuse to install the Adobe Connect Software Client onto my computer.
I do not trust Adobe Systems Inc. to respect my privacy. I cannot trust
the course administration either, since they carelessly created an Adobe
Connect account using my email address. Even without my express
permission, Adobe already had information about me that I would never
give them.

Additionally, installing a proprietary program on my computer
compromises both the security of my computer and the freedom to control
my computers behavior for my own purposes. Installing a proprietary
program designed by Adobe System Inc. puts the control of my personal
computer that much more in the hands of Adobe's corporation and less in
my own.

I notified the professor of my decision not to download and install
Adobe Connect' client. He told me that I would be allowed to take the
course, but that I would inevitably fail the class because the only way
to receive credit for participation is to attend the majority of the
seminar—and the only way to do so and receive participation credit is
via Adobe Connect's online service, which can only be accessed via their
proprietary software client.

I attempted to negotiate alternative solutions, like attending in person
(Harvard is a short bus ride from my apartment) and seeing if other
accommodations could be made—all of which were rejected. Instead, the
professor tried to persuade me to "grit my teeth" and use the software
that they paid substantial license fees for[3]. All attempts my the
professor and Harvard Copyright X's administration to persuade me,
however, only made me realize just how important it was to stand up for
my personal privacy and freedom. If I did not make this important choice
to protect my computing freedom and my personal privacy, then who would?
The careless and inconsiderate behavior of the Harvard Copyright X
course just does not add up to a just education policy[4].

I kept pace with the course through the videos and reading materials. I
posted to the class Bulletin Board when I found that I had something to
contribute to the discussions. I stayed engaged in the threads of emails
that developed throughout the semester in my class section via email.
The only thing that I did not do to fulfill the requirements for the
course is attend the seminars via the online Adobe Connect service
(sometimes, kind classmates would take the time to fill me in on
discussions that took place in the seminars—to them, I extend a big
thank you!).

Months of studying later, it was time for the exam. There are two
requirements for passing the course--one is participation and the other
is to pass the exam, so it is important to pass the exam in order to
pass the course. I was extremely busy during this time and I even had to
move important engagements to other dates in order to prioritize some of
my time for the exam, but I made the time and I did the test.

About a month later, I received the results for my exam. I had, in fact,
passed the exam. The same message, however, said that I did not pass the
course because "as you know, you did not fulfill the attendance
requirements". This means that the only reason that I did not pass the
course is because I did not use Adobe Connect to attend the online
seminars. Moreover, this means that Harvard CopyrightX has embedded into
the fabric of its policy that students must download, install, and use
privacy-compromising and freedom-denying software from a third-party
company in order to pass the course.

I am proud of the decision that I made for the sake of my privacy and
their freedom. I encourage others to please not be tempted to compromise
your privacy and autonomy just because a teacher or institution tries to
pressure you into using it—stand up for your freedom and your privacy!

Devin Ulibarri

Related Links:

https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/who-does-that-server-really-serve.html
Why should schools exclusively use free software?
https://www.gnu.org/education/edu-schools.html

[1] An account had also been created for me with Harvard's online
service, "Discussion Forums for Copyright X", (for posting and
responding to questions posed by CopyrightX faculty, teaching aids, and
students), which I do not object to because it is hosted and run by
Harvard directly.
[2] By using Adobe Connect service, the student is also entering their
terms of use and privacy policy, which can be found at
https://www.adobe.com/privacy/policy.html and
http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/eula/adobeconnect8.html
[3] I gave the professor and other Harvard CopyrightX staff my final
decision regarding my refusal to download and use Adobe Connect and
wrote an open letter to share with friends and classmates to help raise
awareness and clarify the reasons for my decision.
[4] The professor in one email correspondence told me that if a free
software solution existed that had similar functionality to Adobe
Connect that he would use it on the grounds that it would save them
money. This thinking is wrongheaded. Educational institutions should
first choose services, systems, and technology that do not compromise
students' privacy and freedom. Then, and only then, should educational
institutions look for appealing features and functionality.
  Additionally, if Harvard Copyright X were to invest their money in the
development of free software solutions instead of jumping on the latest
tech fads, then they would be able to create an infrastructure that they
were in complete ownership of and control over—both pedagogically and
administratively. The return on investment would be financial savings in
the future and—moreover—the protection of freedom and privacy for its
own operations and students.

[END: How I Chose Privacy and Freedom for my Personal Education and Why
-- by Devin Ulibarri; Musician, Educator, and Privacy-in-Education Advocate]
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