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I have a homepage where I typically put my published manuscripts on together with information about me. I have a tracker/analytics page that tells me which paper is getting more downloads/views, because I am interested in knowing which of my work/projects people are most interested in (citations don’t always equate that, my most “active” paper has a few citations).

A colleague of mine told me this might be perceived by some as inappropriate. I don’t really check countries/individual information of visitors, just an aggregate on a per paper basis.

Is this generally ok or should I deactivate the analytics link?

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    The web server logs that info, in any case, by-the-way... Jun 24, 2023 at 17:26
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    Asking about a "tracker" is deeply ambiguous whether it's a tracker that logs and exposes individual IP addresses, vs a tracker that only reports in aggregate which document got how many hits, in which date-range, from which country or domain (.com/.edu/.net/.tld...).
    – smci
    Jun 25, 2023 at 2:56
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    Please specify exactly the raw information you are collecting Jun 25, 2023 at 15:25
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    @user3508551 Whatever the data is that google analytics shows you is data that you are collecting. Please specify what exactly that data is. I understand that I could just look that up, but it's best if you specify it here so we can decide how ethical, anonymous, and normal collection of such data on your academic website is. Jun 25, 2023 at 21:11
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    I think the question should include the fact that you are using Google analytics. Because having a download counter that does exactly that under your control, or having a data hungry third party analyse the heck out of the visitor across many sites, is fundamentally different.
    – BlackJack
    Jun 26, 2023 at 11:03

5 Answers 5

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Just be careful you're complying with consent.

Perhaps the most rigorous is the EU's GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), which states the following about cookies:

To comply with the regulations governing cookies under the GDPR and the ePrivacy Directive you must:

  • Receive users’ consent before you use any cookies except strictly necessary cookies.
  • Provide accurate and specific information about the data each cookie tracks and its purpose in plain language before consent is received.
  • Document and store consent received from users.
  • Allow users to access your service even if they refuse to allow the use of certain cookies
  • Make it as easy for users to withdraw their consent as it was for them to give their consent in the first place.
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    I am genuinely curious if GDPR applies in this case. There is a reasonably broad carve out for personal websites (visitor-analytics.io/en/blog/…); IANAL but this would seem to apply to academic websites. Of course, "analytics" are typically collected by a third party provider such as Google, in which case IDK.
    – kyle
    Jun 26, 2023 at 18:55
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A colleague of mine told me this might be perceived by some as inappropriate.

By whom exactly? "Some?" As opposed to what, every single website on the Internet? It does not seem that you are proposing to place a cookie that will track the user's activity across the Internet. You just want to see how many people are visiting your page. Totally appropriate.

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    Yes, certainly there is a huge difference between logging/counting the IP addresses that visit your site, and planting cookies on somebody's browser... Jun 24, 2023 at 21:52
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    Using a readymade analytics solution will, however, track the user across the Internet, it just reports only per-site statistics to site owners. Jun 25, 2023 at 5:51
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    Any web server will generate a log in a standard format, and there's 30 years' worth of scripts for analysing those. There is absolutely no need to start messing around with cookies, much less "social media" trackers. Jun 26, 2023 at 6:26
  • @Mark Morgan Lloyd: Yes, assuming the web server logs are accessible. That is not the case for many hosting solutions, e.g. shared hosting. Jun 26, 2023 at 8:57
  • @PeterMortensen in that case find a competent ISP. If research etc. is published openly, which is after all the tradition in academia, then it's debatable whether the author has the right to find out who's read it (unless they publish derivative work) let alone Google et al. Jun 26, 2023 at 9:21
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Is this generally ok or should I deactivate the analytics link?

It depends in part on what you mean by a "tracker":

  • If you're really just counting page views (that is, tracking views rather than viewers) then I don't think anyone would object.

  • If you're logging and analyzing information that users provide anyway (the IP addresses from which requests originate, for example) then I don't think most people, academic or otherwise, would object, but you may be on shaky ground with respect to some privacy laws, such as the GDPR. In this case, you should consider deactivating the analytics for your own protection.

  • If you're installing tracking cookies or using similar technology to identify visitors and track their activity then that's not ok with me, and probably not ok with the EU (GDPR), and maybe not ok with various other countries and their privacy laws. Probably my browser foils your attempt, but I would consider it rude that you tried. In this case, you should deactivate the tracker for your own protection, for your reputation, and because it's the right thing to do.

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It's your homepage, you can put whatever you want on it.

There does, in my experience at least, tend to be a higher concentration of 1) people who understand the privacy issues of trackers, and 2) people who care about trackers, in acadaemia but there's no general consensus that this is unacceptable.

Anyone who has a problem with internet trackers probably has browser extensions to block them anyway, and they're always free to not use your website anyway.

Just make sure you have the appropriate consent notices.


As a side note, you could capture all of the information you mentioned in your back-end quite comfortably and avoid needing any sort of browser based tracking entirely.

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    I'd appreciate some context as to the downvote so I can improve this answer... Jun 26, 2023 at 12:23
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    I'm guessing people don't agree with the "It's your homepage, you can put whatever you want on it" statement. There are many things that are illegal that you can't put on your homepage. In particular, for European visitors, it is illegal for you to collect certain type of information about them without consent. Jun 26, 2023 at 15:22
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    @CrisLuengo - I did say that you need the appropriate consent notices... Jun 26, 2023 at 15:35
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    Many things are illegal with or without consent. Jun 26, 2023 at 15:37
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    I would have assumed that that goes without saying... It's obviously unacceptable to host illegal content Jun 26, 2023 at 15:38
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EDIT 2: I have just read that you are using Google Analytics. I did not realise that was the case when originally reading your question. I think that you should mention this in your question, because it is very different to what I had imagined when originally reading it. In this case, I would most definitely recommend that you have a disclaimer that you are using Google Analytics on your web page. Google Analytics, as others have said, sells data to third parties, that's why the service is free. There's no such thing as a free lunch, as they say. I'd recommend you use something other than Google Analytics to track your downloads. How are you hosting your site? Is it through a paid server, or are you hosting the server yourself? There are plenty of ways that you can analyse how many downloads of your papers are occurring without resorting to Google Analytics.

EDIT: (After received constructive criticism)

I personally do not view it as inappropriate, so long that you are collecting anonymised data, and not logging the IP addresses of individuals who download your papers. If this is the case, you can have a simple message saying "I compile anonymised data relating to the download and view counts of individual papers, to help me determine which of my papers garner greater interest, which guides me to understand which of my topics people are most interested in. I do not log the IP addresses associated with these downloads nor do I log any other personal information." If this is the case, I believe that it is not an invasion of privacy, because you aren't logging who has read your papers.

I find it strange that an individual would state that people would find this inappropriate when it is a standard feature of virtually all cloud hosting services, and (assuming it is anonymous) does not seem to me to constitute an invasion of privacy, because you would not know who any of those people were. Regarding the country of origin, that could be beneficial to know which countries are most interested in your research, which would be relevant for obtaining grants etc. I don't think it would be an invasion of privacy, because countries comprise large numbers of people, and you would not know which people specifically were reading your papers (again, given that you do not track the IP addresses).

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    Downvoted because this answer seems to be an opinion regarding the acceptability of internet tracking in general, rather than an answer to the question. The last paragraph regarding your personal life obviously has meaning to you but is entirely irrelevant to answering the question.
    – traktor
    Jun 25, 2023 at 12:04
  • This answer treats the question as if it is a simple yes or no answer ("either it is inappropriate or it is not"), but offers an opinion, rather than a real answer. I agree that the last paragraph has nothing to do with the question.
    – BioBrains
    Jun 25, 2023 at 15:47
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    Despite the moderation strike, I removed the wildly inappropriate final paragraph (for anyone reading traktor and Bio's comments now). Accusing an anonymous person you've never met of gaslighting is certainly something. Jun 25, 2023 at 18:03
  • I apologise for answering in a way that obviously was not in line with the regulations of the forum. It was my first post ever here. What does the moderation strike mean? Yes, I posted my opinion, I didn't realise that wasn't what people do on forums? Are people supposed to have citations that refer to other people's peer reviewed opinions? I am against tracking on the internet, but having anonymised statistics about how many people download your paper is not tracking, is it?
    – Javed Alam
    Jun 27, 2023 at 5:47
  • The last sentence, in retrospect, was inappropriate, however it was relevant to the question. The OP stated that their colleague stated that "some" people may find it inappropriate. I was trying to illustrate with an analogy that the term "some" is vague, and is often used to refer to a minority (e.g. "let's go to the supermarket and buy some bread) - are you going to buy every loaf of bread in the store? Highly unlikely.
    – Javed Alam
    Jun 27, 2023 at 6:01

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