‘Use the tools TU/e has rolled out’

Steps were quickly taken during the last few weeks to make work, consultation, education and holding exams online possible. The introduction of Office 365 was expedited, but staff members and students also looked for suitable platforms themselves. Zoom was a popular choice. The Executive Board prohibits the use of this platform for holding exams, and strongly advises against the use of it for other purposes. The reason for this is because there are fears of data leaks, privacy concerns, and for not complying with the General Data Protection Regulations. And quite rightly so, says Hans Louwhoff, director of Information Management & Services (IMS).

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IMS director Hans Louwhoff acknowledges that Zoom provides teachers with attractive features as well. Especially the possibility to meet with many students at the same time. But he points out that that those advantages do not outweigh the dangers of this platform.

“Hackers can break into those meetings, the so-called Zoombombing, and place all kinds of unwanted content. You hear more and more stories, both nationally and internationally, that warn you for those kinds of practices. It happened in New York, but in Zoetermeer as well, where school children were confronted with pornography. They issued a ban on Zoom there. And reputable organizations such as Nasa and Spacex, and Google only yesterday, have distanced themselves from it as well by now.”

Just last week, professor Bettina Speckman recommended Zoom as a very usable tool to get her education online quickly. When asked for a reaction, she says that the platforms TU/e currently offers do not meet her needs. “For instance, it’s not possible to meet with more than sixteen students at the same time. I have groups with more than fifty students. What alternative do I have?” She also says that Zoom worked hard to fix the system’s safety issues and that it would be a good idea if TU/e were to purchase its own license for the use of Zoom. “That would guarantee the privacy during conversations between TU/e staff members and students.”

Own license

Louwhoff says that Zoom’s security issues still haven’t been solved, and having an own license would do very little to change that, he believes. “That will only give you more features, but not more safety.” The IMS director is also worried about not complying with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into force in May 2018. “That, too, we can’t guarantee with Zoom, and that would mean that the university might get into serious trouble should a student decide to make a case out of it.”

When asked why other institutions, including the University of Amsterdam and Tilburg University, choose to work with Zoom, in contrast to TU/e, Louwhoff says: “The UvA has indicated that it doesn’t have an alternative available at this time, and Tilburg has also agreed to it reluctantly.”

Incidentally, Louwhoff doesn’t say that Zoom has completely ceased to be an option for TU/e. “We see that hard work is being done to ensure the safety and we will continue to closely monitor those developments from IMS. But as long as we aren’t convinced that Zoom is one hundred percent safe, we will strongly advise everyone at TU/e against using it, and until that time, our motto is: ‘use the tools TU/e has rolled out’.”

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