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Multiple times, for multiple publishers, I have received an automated email, sent through editorial manager software, asking me to referee a paper. When I click on the link in the mail, I am first prompted to agree with the publisher's "Privacy Policy".

This policy, among other things, grants the publisher the right to use my personal data for marketing purposes, and to sell my personal data to third parties for their marketing purposes.

I do not see why I should consent to any such thing, as a condition of agreeing to do review work for free.

Is there any way I can meaningfully push back against this, without antagonizing the scientists on the editorial board? My disagreement is with the publisher, not with them.

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  • 25
    You decline and write "I do not see why ...". I'm not sure what else there is to say.
    – Allure
    Aug 9, 2023 at 10:45
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    @Allure If I do that, then I presume that the editor will see it and the publisher's staff will not. The editor is someone I highly respect, a very influential person in my field, and the publisher's marketing practices are not under his purview. I'd rather not address my complaint to him.
    – academic
    Aug 9, 2023 at 11:37
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    If that is your concern, write to the journal's email with your complaint. Just be aware that it'll almost surely have no impact. If you actually want to make changes, convincing the editor is the most realistic first step.
    – Allure
    Aug 9, 2023 at 11:57
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    I'm not an academic, but I'm a software engineer nad I have to comply with GDPR si I know a couple of things. Under the GDPR that's illegal, and if you are european you can raise your voice about the privacy issue with the legal entity that manage those things in your country, (or you can tell them that you will report them but not really do so), they will fix their provacy policy right away
    – Bloodday
    Aug 9, 2023 at 20:26
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    it's up to the editor to chose which publisher they go through
    – njzk2
    Aug 9, 2023 at 21:00

4 Answers 4

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As suggested in comments, just refuse to review for the journal. If you want to tell them why, it might (or not) have an effect on their policies.

Those scientists on the board will have more clout than you do in effecting change in policies. But they may need to be made aware of the issue and that others consider it important. Just. Say. No.

Those editors have no reason to be insulted as the policies aren't theirs. Simple phrasing of a declining email can make this clear.

But gathering personal information for sale is sadly now ubiquitous. At least they are honest enough to tell you about their policy.

Also note that reviewers provide a valuable service to the publisher (as well as the scientific community). They should treat you better than to sell your personal information.

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    Also, the editors are the ones who have to worry about finding reviewers. I'd guess they'll be more worried and thus willing to push towards a change than staff at the publisher service email. Aug 11, 2023 at 7:29
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If you are in the European Union, the publisher is breaking the law (regardless of where they are based). Some organisations break the law as a calculated move, but most that do do so "accidentally": owing to the ignorance, incompetence or arrogance of employees, or to procedural failings. This kind of situation can often be resolved with an email.

In this email, you may optionally CC your GDPR supervisory authority, and/or the supervisory authority of the publisher's EU headquarters (if they have one). The Italian DPA maintains a list of DPAs. Many data protection authorities have policies you should follow before contacting the supervisory authority; for example, the UK's ICO requires 30 days' notice (and ongoing engagement) before escalating. Do keep these in mind.


To: Publisher's Legal Department <[email protected]>
CC: Editors <[email protected]>; Own Country Supervisory Authority <[email protected]>; Publisher Country Supervisory Authority <[email protected]>
Subject: Refereeing without additional data processing

Dear Publisher's Legal Department,

I have been invited to review a paper for Name of Journal. Before I can accept this invitation, your website requires me (per the Privacy Policy) to consent to "quotation from privacy policy". As per Articles 6 and 7 of the GDPR, this is far from being valid consent for the data processing: you are not permitted to use the data you've collected on EU residents for this purpose, and I'd appreciate if you didn't.

I would like to accept this invitation to referee for Name of Journal, but I object and do not consent to the use of my personal data for these additional purposes. Per GDPR §7.3 and §7.4, please allow me to accept the invitation to referee.

Yours faithfully,

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    "As per Articles 6 and 7 of the GDPR, this is far from being valid consent for the data processing": What do you mean? If you give consent, they are permitted to do what you gave consent for. The GDPR requires them to ask for consent, and §7.4 requires that to be very clear, but once the consent has been given, they can do anything they want as long as it is covered by that consent.
    – terdon
    Aug 10, 2023 at 12:53
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    @terdon But what is described by the question is not consent. (It's not actual consent, or we wouldn't have questions like this in the first place – but it's also not legal consent per GDPR, because GDPR is a half-decent law.) Consent for extra data processing, like selling it to third parties, has to be completely independent of being able to do stuff, or it doesn't count as freely-given (§7.2). That means no clickwrap "agreement" can provide valid GDPR consent.
    – wizzwizz4
    Aug 10, 2023 at 12:57
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    Do you have any compelling evidence that this works? It may give you a clear and easy path for reprisal when it's violated, but it may not stop them from selling or sharing your data. Aug 10, 2023 at 12:59
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    @ScottSeidman 🤷 I've got at least three companies to change their policies by just informing decision-makers of the situation and the law – including Stack Exchange (though Mad Scientist, and the employees who actually fixed stuff, deserve at least as much credit). I've not been invited to referee ever, so I can't say it works in this particular case.
    – wizzwizz4
    Aug 10, 2023 at 13:07
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    @cbeleitesunhappywithSX The argument you've made has very little to do with the GDPR. Consider articles 5.1(b), 6.1(a) v.s. 6.1(b), and 7.4, in the context of Recitals 42.5 and 43.2. That there's a contract (if this even counts as a contract) is immaterial. (Note: I have not been taught how to interpret GDPR by anyone: while I'm pretty certain this practice is illegal, my reasoning could well be wrong.)
    – wizzwizz4
    Aug 11, 2023 at 19:48
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Approach that worked for me when I encountered the same situation in 2019:

  • I e-mailed the relevant associate editor setting out the problem and asking if they knew of a workaround.
  • The AE passed the query on to the on-staff handler for that journal at the publishing house.
  • The handler suggested the AE e-mail the manuscript to me and I return my review by e-mail, thus bypassing the web interface and never having to agree to its Ts&Cs. Therefore, that's what we did.

I'd imagine this is a very common problem, because lots of publishing houses outsource their online handling of reviews to the same organisation that authored the offending Ts&Cs.

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My simple solution: Do not give the publisher any of your personal information.

The only personal information the journal needs to get a peer review from you is your name and professional email address. This information is likely already on your employer's website and in journal articles you have published.

If you hate browser cookies, you can ask the editor to email the article and then email them back the review.

I do not see any benefits to your privacy from sending complaints or from refusing to review.

Most of the annoying marketing relating to journal publishing uses names and email addresses which are collected by web crawlers. The annoying marketers do not buy your information from publishers.

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