Data tracking in research: aggregation and use or sale of usage data by academic publishers

“This briefing paper issued by the Committee on Scientific Library Services and Information Systems (AWBI) of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) on the subject of data tracking in digital research resources describes options for the digital tracking of research activities. It outlines how academic publishers are becoming data analytics specialists, indicates the consequences for research and its institutions, and identifies the types of data mining that are being used. As such, it primarily serves to present contemporary practices with a view to stimulating discussion so that positions can be adopted regarding the consequences of these practices for the academic community. It is aimed at all stakeholders in the research landscape….

Potentially, research tracking of this kind can fundamentally contradict academic freedom and informational self-determination. It can endanger scientists and hinder the freedom of competition in the field of information provision. For this reason, scholars and academic institutions must become aware of the problem and clarify the legal, technical and ethical framework conditions of their information supply – not least so as to avoid involuntarily violating applicable law, but also to ensure that academics are appropriately informed and protected. AWBI’s aim in issuing this briefing paper is to encourage a broad debate within the academic community – at the level of academic decision-makers, among academics, and within information infrastructure institutions – so as to reflect on the practice of tracking, its legality, the measures required for compliance with data protection and the consequences of the aggregation of usage data, thereby enabling such measures to be adopted. The collection of data on research and research activity can be useful as long as it follows clear-cut, transparent guidelines, minimises risks to individual researchers and ensures that academic organisations are able to use such data if not have control over it.”