I work at a faculty which is completely dedicated to open access and open science. They do everything in accordance with best practices. Very cool.

But at the same time they are totally embedded in the Google infrastructure, using Gmail, Calendar, Drive and so on. Even I, a Google skeptic, find myself using it because it’s so gosh dang easy.

I’ve been recently invited to join the Open Access Committee, which is obviously terrific. I think of taking up this issue, but I can’t really get a grip on the extent to which this may be a totally different issue, or a related one. Therefore I’d like to hear your advice on the matter!

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    What exactly is your concern about Google's infrastructure here? The main issue people have with Google usually is privacy, but that's not a concern if your data has to be 'open' anyway. Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 12:35
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    Open science and open source may share some principles, but they are very different things with very different goals. You should add to your question why you feel the two things are in contrast with each other.
    – Andrea
    Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 12:35
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    @Andrea The OP never mentioned "open source"? Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 15:35
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    VtC as needing detail as to what you think is in conflict. Remember, the vast majority of scientists are not hacker nerds that are excited to host their own email servers and pass things around with scp. Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 15:36
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    I’m not a “hacker nerd” either and I’m def not suggesting that anyone host their own email servers. Not sure what gave you that impression.
    – Teusz
    Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 17:47

3 Answers 3


Its a totally seperate issue.

Other than closed science = bad, large monopolistic tech company = bad, I not sure I see any connection.

Open Science/Open Access is about publishing all your data and methods in fora that allow free access to everyone as soon as possible. Is there anything specifically about google that prevents or makes this harder?

I can't think of anything.

  • 3
    Indeed. It isn't like Outlook would be any better/different.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 14:25
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    @JonCuster, hmmm, Outlook could be and is worse. Much worse. Much much ..... worse.
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 15:10
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    @Buffy At least for Outlook an institution can set it up to not read the contents of all your emails. For Gmail, that's not possible, so it's impossible to use any Google services when you deal with HIPAA-protected anything, for example (not that it's great to transmit any PII via email anyways, but even tiny bites of information can be HIPAA protected, like emailing a research participant about a scheduled appointment).
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 16:00
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    @BryanKrause Can't an institution make the (paid?) Google Workspace version HIPAA-compliant? support.google.com/a/answer/3407054
    – Anyon
    Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 16:06
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    Outlook not only reads and filters all my email, any link I click in an email is filtered through MS servers before it is sent. This is advertised as a "security" feature. My outgoing email is also filtered. (We know who you are. We know who you talk to. We even know what you read.) Yes, I know that my institution is one of the sinners here.
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 16:13

While the main concern against Google (privacy) does not apply here, there are some avenues in which the big G can cause damage. Having a good, almost-free-but-not-really service discourages the development and use of free (as in freedom) alternatives; but then this lack of openness can later become problematic because of lock-in, or because a previously-free service becomes expensive to use or is discontinued.

Examples: data is hosted on Google sites, or on Google Docs in a proprietary format; suppose Google pulls a Geocities and closes that service; then the data disappears or becomes difficult to migrate. Large datasets are hosted on Google drive, but then the user runs out of space in their free tier and decides to delete them.

[EDIT: very relevant real-life example: we just got word that the free Google Drive tier that Google offers to our university will be reduced from "unlimited storage" to "100 TB for the whole institution", so the university has until January to free up 372 TB of extra used space, or upgrade to a paid plan.]

The real problem, though, is that open alternatives are difficult to set up and expensive to maintain, while Google's stuff is free (at first) and easy to use. Becoming Google-free requires investment, and not all universities are prepared to make it. A positive example is Germany, which in the past years has pushed for free self-hosted services in all universities at the nation level. But this is not a simple road to take.


Absolutely yes.

Nowadays, Google is just the offspring of a big advertising conglomerate (let's call it Alpha, because it is the alpha character in the room and not anymore a bet).

As such, Google will try to integrate and inglobate everything. See google Scholar, which is being the reference tool to find paper and citations. A part from the data collection-harvesting, its algorithms are absolutely obscure and unclear, so there is no way to evaluate why the results of certain search appears the way it appears.

So you are well in time for setting the boundary, and raise awareness of the potential pitfalls in integrating too much of the university software ecosystem in the big colossus.

For example: they are even trying to make you upload open access papers to their platform, which then will be accessible then only via google drive (see slide 8), bypassing whatever publisher and allwing them to collect even more data without a clear consent from your side (well, you gave it long time ago, not that you had an alternative ...) !

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    There are certainly gripes to be had with Google, but which of those you listed are actually in tension with an institution engaging in open access and open science?
    – Anyon
    Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 16:51
  • @Anyon ask your librarians!
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 7:20

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