Virtual Classrooms and Real Harms: Remote Learning at U.S. Universities


Shaanan Cohney, Princeton University / University of Melbourne; Ross Teixeira, Anne Kohlbrenner, Arvind Narayanan, and Mihir Kshirsagar, Princeton University; Yan Shvartzshnaider, Princeton University / York University; Madelyn Sanfilippo, Princeton University / University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Universities have been forced to rely on remote educational technology to facilitate the rapid shift to online learning. In doing so, they acquire new risks of security vulnerabilities and privacy violations. To help universities navigate this landscape, we develop a model that describes the actors, incentives, and risks, informed by surveying 49 educators and 14 administrators at U.S. universities. Next, we develop a methodology for administrators to assess security and privacy risks of these products. We then conduct a privacy and security analysis of 23 popular platforms using a combination of sociological analyses of privacy policies and 129 state laws, alongside a technical assessment of platform software. Based on our findings, we develop recommendations for universities to mitigate the risks to their stakeholders.

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@inproceedings {274479,
author = {Shaanan Cohney and Ross Teixeira and Anne Kohlbrenner and Arvind Narayanan and Mihir Kshirsagar and Yan Shvartzshnaider and Madelyn Sanfilippo},
title = {Virtual Classrooms and Real Harms: Remote Learning at {U.S}. Universities},
booktitle = {Seventeenth Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security (SOUPS 2021)},
year = {2021},
isbn = {978-1-939133-25-0},
pages = {653--674},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug

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