Book Talk: Data Cartels Tickets, Wed, Nov 30, 2022 at 10:00 AM | Eventbrite

“In our digital world, data is power. Information hoarding businesses reign supreme, using intimidation, aggression, and force to maintain influence and control. Sarah Lamdan brings us into the unregulated underworld of these “data cartels”, demonstrating how the entities mining, commodifying, and selling our data and informational resources perpetuate social inequalities and threaten the democratic sharing of knowledge….”

‘All your data are belong to us’: the weaponisation of library usage data and what we can do about it | UKSG

By Caroline Ball – Academic Librarian, University of Derby, #ebookSOS campaigner
Twitter: @heroicendeavour, Mastodon:

and Anthony Sinnott, Access and Procurement Development Manager, University of York; Twitter: @librarianth

What do 850 football players and their performance data have in common with academic libraries and online resources? More than you’d think! The connecting factor is data, how it is collected, used and for what purposes.

‘Project Red Card’ is demanding compensation for the use of footballers’ performance data by betting companies, video game manufacturers, scouts and others, arguing that players should have more control over how their personal data is collected and particularly how it is monetized and commercialised.

Similarly, libraries’ online resources, whether a single ebook or vast databases, are producing enormous amounts of data, utilised by librarians to assist us in our vital functions: assessing usage and value, determining demand and relevance.

But are we the only ones using this data generated by our users? What other uses is this data being put to? We know for certain that vendors have access to more data than they provide to us via COUNTER statistics etc, but we have no way of knowing how much, what types, or what is done with it.

Witness the recent controversy generated by Wiley’s removal of 1,379 e-books from Academic Complete. Publishers like Wiley determine high use by accessing statistics generated by our end-users via the various e-book platforms through which they access the content. This in itself is indicative of our end-user/library data being provided to third parties without our knowledge or consent, particularly concerning given our licences are with vendors and not publishers. We are also not privy to what data-sharing agreements exist between vendors and publishers. Should we allow library usage data to be weaponized against us in this fashion? What recourse do we have to push back against this practice of ‘data extractivism’, to either withhold this data from publishers and vendors or prohibit them from using it for their own commercial gain?



The Quiet Invasion of ‘Big Information’ | WIRED

This story is adapted from Data Cartels: The Companies That Control and Monopolize Our Information, by Sarah Lamdan.


When people worry about their data privacy, they usually focus on the Big Five tech companies: Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft. Legislators have brought Facebook’s CEO to the capitol to testify about the ways the company uses personal data. The FTC has sued Google for violating laws meant to protect children’s privacy. Each of the tech companies is followed by a bevy of reporters eager to investigate how it uses technology to surveil us. But when Congress got close to passing data privacy legislation, it wasn’t the Big Five that led the most urgent effort to prevent the law from passing, it was a company called RELX.

You might not be familiar with RELX, but it knows all about you. Reed Elsevier LexisNexis (RELX) is a Frankensteinian amalgam of publishers and data brokers, stitched together into a single information giant. There is one other company that compares to RELX—Thomson Reuters, which is also an amalgamation of hundreds of smaller publishers and data services. Together, the two companies have amassed thousands of academic publications and business profiles, millions of data dossiers containing our personal information, and the entire corpus of US law. These companies are a culmination of the kind of information market consolidation that’s happening across media industries, from music and newspapers to book publishing. However, RELX and Thomson Reuters are uniquely creepy as media companies that don’t just publish content but also sell our personal data.


Webinar: Dr. Chris Gilliard aka HyperVisible on Educational Surveillance. 20 Oct 2022, 6pm (EDT)| The Feminist and Accessible Publishing, Communications, + Tech Series @Eventbrite

Dr. Chris Gilliard (@hypervisible) is a leading critic of surveillance technology, digital privacy, and the problematic ways that tech intersects with race and social class. He will talk about the digital forms of surveillance that are coming into schools, colleges, and universities.

Dr. Chris Gilliard is a writer, professor and speaker. His scholarship concentrates on digital privacy, and the intersections of race, class, and technology. He is an advocate for critical and equity-focused approaches to tech in education. His work has been featured in The Chronicle of Higher Ed, EDUCAUSE Review, Fast Company, Vice, and Real Life Magazine. He was recently a a research fellow with the Technology and Social Change Research Project at Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center.

This event is part of the 4th Season of the Feminist and Accessible Publishing and Communications Technologies Speaker and Workshop Series (, organized by Dr. Alex Ketchum.

Our series was made possible thanks to our sponsors: SSHRC, the Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies (IGSF), the DIGS Lab, Milieux, Initiative for Indigenous Futures, MILA, Dean of Arts Grant, ReQEF, and more (see our website!)

There is no fee required to attend this event. We will provide professional captions in english. This event will NOT be recorded and NOT bemade available on our website after the event. However, you can watch other past events at:


Navigating Risk in Vendor Data Privacy Practices: An Initial Analysis of Elsevier’s ScienceDirect

“As libraries spend more and more resources licensing platforms, the terms around how vendors treat user data have become complex and difficult to understand. This poses serious concerns given the ever-increasing incentive for vendors to monetize this data—many in ways fundamentally at odds with libraries’ commitment to privacy. Protecting user privacy is a challenge for libraries trying to navigate through the vague and abstruse vendor contracts and policies. To assist libraries in this challenge, SPARC has partnered with Becky Yoose of LDH Consulting Services to analyze vendor contracts and privacy policies to provide libraries a better understanding of the potential risks they pose to user privacy….”

Data Cartels and Surveillance Publishing

“Over the last years, as the process of conducting research and scholarship has moved more and more online,  it has become clear that user surveillance and data extraction has crept into academic infrastructure in multiple ways. 

For those committed to preserving academic freedom and knowledge equity, it’s important to interrogate the practices and structures of the companies that are collecting and selling this data, and the impacts of this business model on academic infrastructure – and particularly on already marginalized and underfunded scholars and students. 

To help us understand this landscape and its implications, today we are in conversation with Sarah Lamdan, author of the forthcoming book  Data Cartels: The Companies That Control and Monopolize Our Information. …”

Mündiges Datensubjekt statt Laborratte: Rechtsschutz gegen Wissenschaftstracking | Jahrbuch Technikphilosophie

 by Felix Reda

Bei der Debatte um das Wissenschaftstracking stand bislang vor allem die Sensibilisierung für den Datenschutz im Vordergrund. Das ist ein wichtiger erster Schritt, denn nur wenn Forschende sich darüber bewusst sind, dass ihr Forschungsverhalten Klick für Klick überwacht und kommerziell verwertet wird, können sie sich dafür engagieren, dieser Praxis Einhalt zu gebieten. Doch wie so oft bei Datenschutzthemen droht sich Fatalismus breitzumachen, wenn die Debatte in der Problembeschreibung steckenbleibt.

Viel zu wenige Universitäten bieten ihren Forschenden proaktiv eine eigene, datenschutzsensible Software-Infrastruktur an, die kollaboratives wissenschaftliches Arbeiten auch institutionenübergreifend ermöglichen würde. Große Teile der wissenschaftlichen Literatur sind ausschließlich über die Portale der kommerziellen Wissenschaftsverlage verfügbar, die mit verwirrenden Cookie-Bannern aufwarten. Allein sich einen Überblick zu verschaffen, welche Daten ein Konzern wie Elsevier über einen gespeichert hat, ist ein aufwändiges Unterfangen[1]. Im ohnehin schon stressigen Forschungsalltag ist es unrealistisch, dass einzelne Forschende sich selbst vor dem Tracking durch diese Unternehmen schützen, indem sie deren Produkte meiden.


Absolutely Terrible Textbook Publishing Giant Pearson Wants To Make Everything Even Worse With NFTs

Pretty much everyone who has ever gone to college hates educational publishers. There’s an oligopoly of just five giant publishers, and they long ago learned that they are in the best market ever: the buyers of their textbooks (the students) have no choice and are forced to buy the books if their professors assign them — and more such books will get sold every semester that the professor requires it. Therefore, textbook prices are insane by any imaginable standard. And, for decades, they kept getting highermassively outpacing tons of other goods. For unclear reasons, the never ending march upwards in book pricing finally seemed to hit a ceiling around 2016, and prices seem to have somewhat leveled out since then. This chart from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics is really pretty striking:

And, while publishers claim that the shift to digital textbooks (partially accelerating by remote learning during the pandemic) has resulted in a decline in student spending over the last five years, the College Board’s latest estimates are still that students will spend an average of $1240 per year on textbooks and supplies. That’s… a lot.

While there are some considerate professors out there who take into account the cost of textbooks (and a very rare few who will only require open access textbooks), most don’t seem to much care. They assign the books they want, the students are required to buy them, and so the publishers just keep raising the prices. Of course, the other way that students try to save money is by buying used textbooks. The savings are not always that significant, but when you’re talking about such large numbers, it can still make a huge difference.

Pearson, the largest of the Big 5 textbook publishers, also has a longstanding reputation for being particularly evil and uncaring. A decade ago, we wrote about how it had sent a single DMCA notice that resulted in 1.5 million teacher and student blogs being deleted. The company also was a key plaintiff in suing a startup that tried to offer free alternatives to super expensive textbooks (the lawsuit was eventually settled with the startup shifting business models, before it was acquired and its cheaper textbooks were shut down).

But, the most evil thing we’ve seen Pearson do was, back in 2019, when it announced it was so annoyed by the used textbook market digging into its never ending profits, and that it was going to switch all its textbooks to non-resalable digital textbooks. For the books it did print, it was going to try to shift to a rental only system. You pay for the textbook for a semester and then you return it. To Pearson. Who can resell it.

Since then, digital scarcity in the form of NFTs has come and gone as the new hotness. And while I still think there’s something interesting about NFTs (and am still working on a big paper about the pros and cons of NFTs), Pearson, in a manner only it could find reasonable, is embracing NFTs… to fuck over students even more.

The print editions of Pearson’s titles — such as “Fundamentals of Nursing,” which sells new for £57.99 ($70.88) — can be resold several times to other students without making the London-based education group any money. As more textbooks move to digital, CEO Andy Bird wants to change that. 

“In the analogue world, a Pearson textbook was resold up to seven times, and we would only participate in the first sale,” he told reporters following the London-based company’s interim results on Monday, talking about technological opportunities for the company. 

“The move to digital helps diminish the secondary market, and technology like blockchain and NFTs allows us to participate in every sale of that particular item as it goes through its life,” by tracking the material’s unique identifier on the ledger from “owner A to owner B to owner C,” said Bird, a former Disney executive.

I mean, I kinda have to hand it to Mr. Bird, the former Disney exec. Usually, these kinds of execs at least try to hide how fucking evil and greedy they are. Andy Bird doesn’t give a shit.

So, here’s the thing. The power of NFTs to track resales and allow the content creator to participate in later sales is often touted as a benefit of NFTs. But, the reason it’s seen that way is because when done for digital artwork it benefits the artist, who sometimes has to sell their works pretty cheaply upfront.

This, is not that.

This is a company that already has jacked up prices to ridiculous levels on a captive market that is effectively forced to purchase at whatever price the publisher sets — and now wanting to “diminish the secondary market” and to track and take a cut of any future sale.

That’s not the power of blockchains and NFTs. When people talk about the useful aspects of those technologies (to the extent there are useful aspects) it’s to enable greater ownership, not less. It’s to enable greater independence from giant corporations, not more. The reason NFT resale bounties work is because everyone feels that it’s fair, and it creates a seamless way to further compensate an artist who most buyers want to support. Not to funnel more cash to a giant, greedy, evil company that is already sucking students dry.

What Pearson is looking to do is to make everyone hate Pearson that much more.

Pearson says NFT textbooks will let it profit off secondhand sales – The Verge

“It’s not clear how, when, or if NFTs might show up in Pearson’s catalog. But they could mark a new stage in a long-standing publishing war. Thanks to legal concepts like the first-sale doctrine, physical book buyers typically own the media they’ve purchased outright, and they’re allowed to sell it without the original publishers making money. But ebooks have complicated that calculus. Any digital transfer creates a new “copy” of the work, and third-party secondhand ebook sales (along with other secondhand digital media sales) have faced serious legal challenges as a result….

Nothing prevents Pearson or any other major publisher from letting people sell ebook licenses using non-crypto DRM. In fact, third-party sellers like Tom Kabinet and ReDigi have been trying to create digital secondhand markets for years. But publishers have been generally hesitant to open the door to digital resales, especially as they’re trialing methods that give book buyers even less control, including subscription services like Pearson Plus — which Bird described glowingly during the earnings call.

So what’s changed? Possibly nothing. Pearson hasn’t committed to NFT textbooks, and Bird doesn’t lose anything by spitballing about the future value of a buzzy (if recently flatlined) new technology. A cut of a resold textbook is probably still less lucrative for Pearson than the subscription model it currently favors. But NFTs do seem to have a psychological effect — they make people feel like they own something, even if the ownership is fairly abstract. Textbook makers might see this as an opportunity to push digital markets in a new direction.

This might be a mixed bag for students. On one hand, some resale opportunity is better than none — which is what people often get with ebooks. On the other, a publisher-controlled resale market will almost certainly be tilted to favor the publisher. Library ebooks have self-destruct conditions that require buying new copies after a certain number of checkouts, for instance, and an NFT ebook could have a similarly limited number of resales. On a more abstract level, it short-circuits a real legal debate over whether people should have the right to control their digital purchases. And it adds yet another incentive for publishers to make buying physical textbooks as unpleasant and difficult as possible because, from their perspective, they’re just losing money on them….”


Pearson plans to sell its textbooks as NFTs | Publishing | The Guardian

“Textbook publisher Pearson plans to profit from secondhand sales by turning its titles into non-fungible tokens (NFTs), its chief executive has said.

Educational books are often sold more than once, since students sell study resources they no longer require. Publishers have not previously been able to make any money from secondhand sales, but the rise of digital textbooks has created an opportunity for companies to benefit….”

Pearson planning blockchain, NFTs for educational books to earn on resales – Ledger Insights – blockchain for enterprise

“During an earnings call this morning, Andy Bird, the CEO of learning company Pearson said it’s looking at non-fungible tokens (NFTs) as a way of earning additional revenues on the sale of second-hand books. A Pearson textbook can be re-sold up to seven times.

“Technology like blockchain and the NFTs allows us to pass through every sale of that particular item as it goes through its life,” said Bird. He mentioned the possibility of participating in downstream revenues.

That’s because many creators of art and sports NFTs take a small cut of the re-sale price, often around 5%. While NBA Top Shot sales of NFTs may have surpassed $1 billion, the vast majority of that money went to individual NFT holders in re-sales. But Dapper Labs, the NBA Top Shot rightsholder, made money on initial NFT sales and every re-sale.

However, re-selling NFTs in a purpose-built app differs from physical textbooks sold locally. The transfer cost is built into the NFT’s smart contract in the digital world, so it’s almost impossible to sidestep. In real life, one can sell a book without scanning a barcode with the embedded NFT. And students are naturally penny-pinching, so they might be keen to sidestep a 5% tax….”

Pearson (LON:PSON) Sees NFT, Blockchain Helping Making Money From E-Books Sales – Bloomberg

“The chief executive officer of Pearson Plc, one of the world’s largest textbook publishers, said he hopes technology like non-fungible tokens and the blockchain could help the company take a cut from secondhand sales of its materials as more books go online. …

“In the analogue world, a Pearson textbook was resold up to seven times, and we would only participate in the first sale,” he told reporters following the London-based company’s interim results on Monday, talking about technological opportunities for the company. 


“The move to digital helps diminish the secondary market, and technology like blockchain and NFTs allows us to participate in every sale of that particular item as it goes through its life,” by tracking the material’s unique identifier on the ledger from “owner A to owner B to owner C,” said Bird, a former Disney executive….”

A major publishing lawsuit would cement surveillance into the future o

“Amid the inflection point of library digitization, publishing corporations want to reduce and redefine the role that libraries play in our society. Their suit seeks to halt loans of legally purchased and scanned books, cementing a future of extortionate and opaque licensing agreements and Netflix-like platforms to replace library cards with credit cards. If successful, they will erode the public’s last great venue to access information free from corporate or government surveillance. This dire threat to the privacy and safety of readers has gone largely unnoticed….”

From paywall builders to data tracking moguls or.. How the big publishers have put on a new super vilain costume. – The political economy of academic publications

“Elsevier is a felon, that is a given. This company epitomizes all the crimes, misdemeanors and petty theft that can be accomplished by a publisher. Its wikipedia page is so full of affairs, scandals and raunchy stories that it would be enough to read it to give a talk to an academic congress. And yet Elsevier still find new ways to extract value from academic communities, which both produces new profits and new critiques. This post is the story of the publisher becoming a data company….”