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I just finished my dissertation at a German university that requires that I include personal data (place of birth, date of birth) on the title page of the dissertation. While I have no problem giving this to the University, it has been published on the library webpage and is easily discoverable on Google. I don't want this to be publicly available.

What are my options? Can I withdraw my consent?

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  • This conversation (mostly about whether it's reasonable to care that this information is public) has been moved to chat. user78397: some answerers feel they could better answer if you explained (a) what the nature of your objection to this information being public is, and (b) what sort of consent you gave prior to publication. If you're willing to provide these details, please do so by editing your post.
    – cag51
    Aug 19 at 2:06
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As suggested in the comments by DCTLib, simply ask them to replace it with a version without the personal data (or with the specifics redacted) that you attach to the request. This should be a simple email along the lines of:

Hi,

A version of my thesis with some personal data has been uploaded to on the library webpage. Due to personal/privacy concerns, I want to ask you if you can replace that version with the one in the attachment without this personal data?

Thank you in advance,

This should be sufficient. If it isn't, you can always mention GDPR reasons, but I can't imagine anybody not cooperating with a request like this.

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    Especially because this is in Germany, just mentioning "DSGVO" should probably be enough. Aug 17 at 3:38
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    This is literally the only possible answer. OP wants to remove the file from the library website, so he has to contact the staff of the library website. If and when they disagree to do it, then he can decide how to proceed.
    – AnoE
    Aug 17 at 13:07
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    There is likely an aspect of urgency also, to get this done before the version with the personal data ends up in ProQuest's online database of dissertations.
    – shoover
    Aug 17 at 15:47
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    @JFabianMeier It is explicit in the GDPR that consent must be revocable. So even if you have previously given consent you have the legal right to withdraw such consent.
    – Dave
    Aug 18 at 15:31
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    @Dave I just said that it might be difficult and require decisions of committees and/or paperwork. Depending on the university, you might need to submit the changed version, get approval from the dissertation committee that it still fulfils the publication requirements and then go to the library and asked them to replace the published version. Aug 18 at 15:46
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This is not actually a personal problem of yours, but a collective one for Ph.D. candidates in your university.

You should consult your university's academic staff union, or if graduate student researchers are represented separately, the junior staff / junior researchers / etc union. You should collectively make the demand that this requirement be dropped, for all Ph.D. candidates. It does not make sense for universities to publish this information along with theses - nor, in fact, to have this in the thesis as it is evaluated by academics for its content.

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    I disagree that it makes no sense. It serves to identify the author, beyond their name (which is relevant in the case of a common name). That a PhD thesis is a publication is, at least in Germany, inherent to a PhD thesis.
    – user151413
    Aug 22 at 15:39
  • @user151413: The author is the single person with that name to earn a Ph.D. that year. So, s/he is well-identified and that is a non-problem. Which is part of why this custom does not exist anywhere else (that I know of).
    – einpoklum
    Aug 22 at 16:29
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    "So, s/he is well-identified and that is a non-problem." I would not be surprised if several persons with the same name received a PhD in the same year. E.g., Christian Schmidt is a very common name and there appear to be several persons with that name that currently are PhD students in Germany.
    – Roland
    Aug 23 at 10:20
  • @Roland: Show me a concrete example of this happening at the same department, at the same university, in the same year. I believe you're just speculating for some sort of aposteriori justification.
    – einpoklum
    Aug 23 at 11:00
  • @einpoklum At least putting the place of birth is standard for any german phd thesis I've seen. Note that there are typically also formal requirements for the cover page of the published version, changing which requires explicit permission by the university.
    – user151413
    Aug 23 at 12:51
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Just to update in case someone runs into a similar problem. They said that the requirements of the University meant that I had to give this information on the title page and they could not remove it or allow me to submit the thesis with a modified title page. However, they said that if I gave in four copies of the dissertation at the library then the online version could be blocked for legal reasons. That is what was eventually done.

As a second step, I wrote to Google to remove the cached data. Even after the library blocked the thesis Google was showing personal data. They removed it in a couple of days.

I agree with the others that such a requirement is downright dangerous in these days of identity theft especially as in Germany banks and many others accept your DOB and place of stay as alternative ID if you have forgotten your pin for online banking etc.

My advice, if your university requires such personal data on the title page, is to hand in only paper copies.

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    Thanks for coming back with an answer! (You should also be able to click "accept" to highlight that this is the solution that has worked in practice.)
    – henning
    Aug 23 at 10:15
  • 'Even after the library blocked the thesis Google was showing personal data' Have you checked the Wayback Machine? Aug 23 at 11:44
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    If your bank allows account access having only your date of birth, I'd change the bank. BTW, 4 copies sounds surprisingly few - usually ~20 copies or so must be handed in for it to count as a publication (which are then distributed to various libraries). It could be, of course, that those libraries still have access to your online copies.
    – user151413
    Aug 23 at 12:53
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This is more of a comment: For many German universities, the "publication" requirement for a thesis can be satisfied by an actual publictaion, e.g. in a book or a departmental series of publications/notes. If that is an option, the library may accept to take down your thesis (or it may not, you'll have to check), and the published version can be a slightly cleaned-up version without the mandatory title page, the "eidesstattliche Versicherung" etc.

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