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ResearchGate is pretty well placed on Google. But it does not have a lot of contents or active users, despite their constant invitation spam. So they spidered a lot of publications, and provide some metadata on publications and authors on their web page, even when you do not join.

Given the amount of spam I receive from them, I'm considering to file a cease-and-desist letter, disallowing them to use my name or work for advertising their service and for encouraging users to join their site, and instead display a clear statement that I am not a member and disable search indexing for these pages.

Currently, ResearchGate has a pretty bad reputation, see e.g. ResearchGate: an asset or a waste of time? as well as the Wikipedia article.

I'm really annoyed by them:

  • They have a fake profile page with my name, affiliation, co-authors, publications, and a big "sign up" button; that does not state that I am not a member, as if they could contact me this way.
  • They publish incomplete numbers of citations and impact, which one may consider to give me a bad reputation on their site. (I don't care, but this may be a legal point to make?)
  • They have information pages of many of my articles, with a big "request full-text" button, which will not work, as I am not a member and do not get contact information.
  • They use a proxy redirector to have their website show up first in Google search results, even when the actual contents are only available on a different website,

Do you think that it is detrimental for my career to have such contents removed (by sending a C&D letter to them), or do you think they will ultimately manage to become a useful platform, and then it would be better to not have my data removed? Even with a C&D, I could probably retract it at some point and join. After all, the real contents are available on my homepage and Google Scholar; and these are the locations I want to show up first (fortunately, most of the time, they do).

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See current class-action law suit against LinkedIn for some ideas on legal action you and others might take against RG. –  mankoff Jun 29 '14 at 14:22
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To clarify, your question is about the advisability of having yourself removed from ResearchGate (if possible), not about the advisability of any specific way of trying to achieve that? Many of the answers appear to address the question of whether it is advisable to issue legal threats. –  Nate Eldredge Jun 29 '14 at 18:13
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I'll also mention that people appeared to like my use of the word quixotic in another answer; I think it may apply here as well. –  Nate Eldredge Jun 29 '14 at 18:14
    
My question is mostly on whether this may be detrimental for my career. I don't want to invest a lot of effort or even money, but if I can send them a formal letter they can't just ignore, but have to reply somehow. –  Anony-Mousse Jun 29 '14 at 20:47
    
@AdamDavis: "To claim that they are infringing on your already public details isn't likely to win." - While maybe not applicable in this case, depending on where the portal in question is hosted/run, that depends entirely on the legislation. Some countries have laws about the protection of any data related to persons that generally outlaw any use of such data without explicit written consent, irrespective of whether the data is publicly accessible anywhere else. Things may be more complicated as this is info on authors of a published work, but being public itself does not automatically ... –  O. R. Mapper Jul 11 '14 at 8:49

5 Answers 5

In the US a cease and desist letter does not do what you think it does. C&Ds are outside the usual legal process and serve as a warning to the recipient that you might sue them. Good ones describe in some level of detail the legal wrongs that the recipient has perpetrated against you and spell out the sender's plan to sue if the recipient does not cease and desist from the wrongful activity. They are a prelude to legal action and have no force of law in themselves.

I'm not sure that everything that ResearchGate is doing is legal. They may be contributing to copyright infringement by encouraging their users to post full-text copies of articles that neither ResearchGate nor the authors have license to post. However, I don't think making a stand-in profile page for a non-member is a crime or a tort. They seem to be trying to post true facts about you and your work to the best of their knowledge, which isn't illegal. It may turn out that their citation counts are wrong, but I bet that many such services (Google Scholar, Web of Science, etc) have errors in their databases. A factual error about you is typically not something you can sue over, especially when they've given you the opportunity to help fix their database by making an account.

Finally, getting litigious about their site is likely to lead to others discovering that you threatened ResearchGate. Due to the Streisand Effect, sending them a C&D letter or suing them is likely to do your career more harm than if ResearchGate had complied with your wishes.

I think that most people who care about your citation counts and published papers understand that ResearchGate is of low quality on these metrics so far. They will compare their results to other services and use the results that make the most sense to them. I think you're probably much better off either ignoring ResearchGate or joining up. Though, I wouldn't post any articles for which you lack either the copyright directly or the license to post freely from the current copyright holder.

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The Streisand Effect can only strike when one is trying to keep something a secret (but achieves the opposite by one's actions). Taking action against what one perceives as being spammed by an organization is certainly not something that others should not discover, or that would throw a bad light on oneself. –  O. R. Mapper Jun 29 '14 at 13:45
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The Streisand Effect does not make sense to me. It's not as if the information on me is incorrect. I dislike their attempt to lure others into their site, by using my name and research. –  Anony-Mousse Jun 29 '14 at 13:50
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If you file suit against ResearchGate, that will be public information that people that search for your name may find. If people think that your lawsuit against them is silly, that may reflect negatively on your career. The Streisand Effect includes the attempt to use legal process to "hide, remove, or censor", it doesn't have to be a secret. –  Bill Barth Jun 29 '14 at 13:57
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"Due to the Streisand Effect, sending them a C&D letter or suing them is likely to do your career more harm than if ResearchGate had complied with your wishes." Sorry, I don't understand why this would be the case, as least if we are restricting ourselves to talking about a letter. Most people might think it was a waste of time, but I can think of no reason why it should hurt the posters career. I think that sueing them would be way overboard, but still can't think of a reason anyone would care. Maybe they'd think you were a bit oversensitive/eccentric. –  Faheem Mitha Jun 29 '14 at 14:56
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People care about the strangest things. If nobody cares about this kind of thing, why is the orginal post anonymous? –  Bill Barth Jun 29 '14 at 15:12

Do you think that it is detrimental for my career to have such contents removed (by sending a C&D letter to them), or do you think they will ultimately manage to become a useful platform, and then it would be better to not have my data removed?

Clearly, one can only speculate, but given their current track record I would not hold my breath. I think the danger of real career detriments due to not being on RG are currently so small that this factor can probably be ignored in your decision making. And, as you say, opting in later on will likely not be a problem.

That being said, for me personally just sending them a C&D letter and making sure it is enforced would probably not be worth the effort. They are operated out of Berlin, so I am not sure whether US law (I am assuming that you are US-based) applies. Trying to go through international law to make them remove your data seems like a lot of hassle to me. Most importantly, your point:

they publish incomplete numbers of citations and impact, which one may consider to give me a bad reputation on their site.

is maybe too paranoid. Many, many places maintain publication and citation indices of authors, and practically none of them actually have all your citations in place. I think nobody who has any impact on your career would stumble over your machine-generated RG profile and assume that it is necessarily the complete truth.

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I don't care much about citation counts. My work is well cited, even in their count (which is Scopus or something, not their own). I added this as an extra point to demand in the letter (removal of "join now" buttons, removal of metrics). Also I doubt I would try to enforce the C&D; but I have sent one before to a company that wouldn't take me off their email list, and that worked fine and cost just a fax call. –  Anony-Mousse Jun 29 '14 at 13:59
    
@Anony-Mousse I know I'm late to this 'party', but... have you (or did you) simply try contacting RG and asking for them to remove your data willingly? Naive, I know, but there are too many questions asking "how do I talk to X" where the answer should be: talk to X.... –  CGCampbell Jun 4 at 16:01

I am a law professor, and I am equally pissed with research gate.

It would be unwise and inappropriate to give you specific advice about your own situation: this would likely constitute the unauthorized practice of law; for actual legal advice about the claims and defenses and legal strategies that apply to your situation, consult a competent lawyer admitted to the bar in your jurisdiction. I will recount my own experiences below by way of generally informing the world what one person's approach is to one specific situation (i.e., mine).

That being said, here's how I've dealt with Research Gate. They committed four serious affronts against me:

  1. Fraudulently inducing me to sign up for the site by sending invitations claiming to be from my coauthors,

  2. Forging my name on e-mails to other people claiming that I invited them to sign up to the site

  3. Posting a draft of a paper of mine without permission, and

  4. Maintaining a profile of me on the site without permission. (This one, as others have noted, may not be illegal---I am not sure---though it is certainly offensive in context, and to the extent it involved misleading attributions of endorsement may be illegal.)

In response, after learning about 1, 2, and 4, I sent their customer service people a nastygram over e-mail demanding the forged emails stop and be unsubscribed. They sent me some useless response claiming I could unsubscribe. I thought nothing more of it, but continued to hear of forged emails.

I then discovered 3 via a google scholar alert and really blew my stack. So I contacted their general counsel, also listed as their contact for DMCA takedown notices ( http://www.sfwa.org/2013/03/the-dmca-takedown-notice-demystified/ ) and send them a DMCA takedown combined with an incredibly nasty cease and desist letter. ( https://gist.github.com/paultopia/c12187153f0c2c17cafb )

Their general counsel promptly replied and informed me that he'd taken down the paper referenced in #3 above. I haven't verified that this is true, or checked on any of the other ongoing acts of wrongdoing (the serial email forgery etc). I have some hopes that this will work, however, I am prepared to file suit against them on my own behalf should it not.

What can others learn from my experience? It's not clear yet. I am of the opinion that this company operates by massive fraud and needs to be put down, but if my attempt to menace them into acting a little more law-abiding at least with respect to me succeeds, it may only be because I'm a law professor and they know that it would not be hard for me to drag them to account.

Of the various wrongs they inflict on the world, the posting of unauthorized copies of papers is the easiest to stop---the DMCA is a blunt instrument, and, moreover, the publishers also have an incentive to put a stop to this. The next time I see a paper of mine on their site, I may not even going to bother with doing my own DMCA, instead just turning it over to the publisher.

The rest? As I said, for myself personally, if the forged emails don't stop I may go looking for a class action plaintiff's lawyer, or just file seeking an injunction myself.

But otherwise, the best choice may be prevention. Don't sign up for their site. Tell your friends not to sign up for their site. Let people know if emails inviting them to do things on that site show up under their name. Publicize their practices so that others stay away from them. Starve the beast.

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Nice to see people from the law side here! –  Davidmh Jun 4 at 17:59
    
Very interesting information. Thanks for your answer. –  Potato Jun 5 at 8:30
    
Thank you. I agree, we should encourage our peers to boycott researchgate, and remove their content and profiles. –  Anony-Mousse Jun 5 at 17:08
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researchgate.net/publication/… is still accessible, and leads to a framed version of the paper... so researchgate lied to you when they said they took down the article! –  Anony-Mousse Jun 5 at 17:13
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That's a nice answer. I am wondering: how could they access to a draft of your paper? –  Taladris Jun 20 at 4:13

In the terms and conditions, they state the following:

ARTICLE 4: NOTICE AND TAKE DOWN

If a user feels that any information provided within the Service infringes his/her or any third party's rights, he or she shall notify the Provider before taking any legal action.

Upon such notification, the Provider will expeditiously check the objectionable information and will, where necessary, remove or disable access to this information ("notice and take down" process).

The Provider will respond to any such notification within two business days.

Users shall not take any legal action before the Provider has dismissed the notification or two business days have elapsed without response.

The Provider disclaims liability for expenditures, including court and lawyer fees, if legal action is taken earlier, unless the Provider has caused the infringement intentionally, recklessly or negligently.

There is a contact form with an option for "Legal and Data Protection". You could try that as a first step.

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Ok, let's focus on the main question then: do you think this is detrimental for my career to do so? –  Anony-Mousse Jun 30 '14 at 17:09
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That's interesting. Can a company dictate these terms even if you haven't signed up for their services? –  chipbuster Jun 30 '14 at 19:22
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@chipbuster No. Of course they can't. –  David Richerby Jun 30 '14 at 21:07
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-1: These terms are irrelevant because the OP is not a "user" of ResearchGate. Users refer to members who signed up. –  WetLabStudent Feb 7 at 14:02
    
@WetLabStudent These agreements are only sometimes binding even when their conditions apply, but that's not necessarily the point. The point is they have a process in place and it seems to be a reasonable one, so why not use it? –  Tim Jun 4 at 19:21

Yes, unless you have a clear and quantifiable rational for explaining a future PI or research associate why you were driven to use legal means rather than negotiate.

In your professional life you have to push your personal research agenda through myriads of (small) political hurdles, in the long run your reputation is a two-sided coin. It does you no good to be a stellar researcher if you cannot work smoothly with others (teamwork is the Hallmark of 21st century research) and just working with others without inventing new paradigms will not make you a stellar reputation.

ResearchGate is free and they by and large try to help people, so I think your question is a red-hearing. I would say go back to work and make a name for yourself.

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"It does you no good to be a stellar researcher if you cannot work smoothly with others" - true, but completely irrelevant to the question. ResearchGate is by no mean a measure of teamwork ability. It's just a big spam machine. –  user102 Jun 30 '14 at 20:08
    
A C&D letter is a kind of negotiation. You make some demands, and if they meet them well enough, you don't pursue legal action. It's just a formal way of negotiating without being a "user". ResearchGate is IMHO largely trying to boost their startup value, until they can sell for big bucks to Facebook or Google and exit. It's not much about research, but about company value. –  Anony-Mousse Jul 1 '14 at 11:00

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