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 ( 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: 

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. ( 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

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:
Why should schools exclusively use free software?

[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 and
[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]