Why ReadCube is DRMed and unacceptable for science.

My great collaborator Henry Rzepa has read the last post and delved into Macmillan’s ReadCube and found it to be totally flawed and unacceptable (/pmr/2014/12/03/natures-fauxpen-access-leaves-me-very-sad-and-very-angry/#comment-471649). Here’s Henry:

I had a good look at ReadCube, the walled-garden container for articles that is part of the “free access” announcement. It is indeed DRM-armour. If you download the software, it immediately becomes apparent you cannot launch it without either creating an account or using eg Google+ to enter the garden. So, no true anonymity there then? Once in, you can get it to scoop up all your drive-resident PDFs, and it proceeds to harvest the metadata for each of them. Title, authors, keywords, and probably more. This appears to be then sent to the cloud, since you can access it from any device (for which ReadCube is supported). Much like Mendeley. And we presume that Nature/Macmillan has access to this data (the privacy statement, which is available in very small print if you hunt for it, asserts that the metadata is anonymised before being aggregated). What happens to this (meta)data after the individual has (possibly unknowingly) contributed to this aggregation? We might presume that acquiring this data is core to the business plan for launching this project.
“Nature makes the rules for the scientific community. ” Well certainly, the user appears to have little control over what a tool such as ReadCube does, silently, when running.
I am certainly with Peter here in wondering quite where the ethos and practice of doing science is going.

Henry says it all – I’ve nothing to add: “walled garden”, “no anonymity”, “harvesting your metadata”.
I’m very grateful to Henry for doing this. I don’t investigate these systems myself (e.g. also Elsevier’s TDM API) because I don’t want to have signed my rights away or be accused of compromising the systems.
I’ve previously raised the possibility that Elsevier can use Mendeley to snoop on scientists and control them (by limiting the options they can follow). Macmillan could be even more all-embracing because they have a large share in Figshare, which everyone is now using to manage their data and Universities are buying into.  What actual guarantees are given?
Without public, independent, transparent auditing of these systems how can I trust them. Even Elsevier has “bumpy roads” and how do we know Macmillan doesn’t as well.
I look forward to enlightenment.

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One Response to Why ReadCube is DRMed and unacceptable for science.

  1. Pingback: Outliers and the Importance of Anonymity: Usage Data Versus Snooping on Your Customers | The Scholarly Kitchen

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