Respecting data privacy

On Data Privacy Day, Elsevier spotlights its Privacy Principles

Data Privacy Day, held annually on 28 January, aims to raise awareness of data privacy issues. (Image via <a href=""></a>)Today is Data Privacy Day – an international initiative to promote awareness of privacy issues and highlight the importance of respecting and protecting personal data. At Elsevier, we recognize that personal data can be used to deliver additional value to our users, but also that the proper handling of such data is very important to our user and librarian community. We’re taking this opportunity to unveil our Privacy Principles and explain some of the ways we put these principles into practice.

How we use personal data

Researchers and other users of scientific information are bombarded with new information every day; millions of peer-reviewed articles are published every year, and the global list of conferences and other networking opportunities, whether offline or online, is growing. To support our users in their work, we want to make sure they can get the information they need easily and efficiently. In many cases, we can make our offerings more valuable to our users by leveraging some of their personal data, like profile and usage data.

For example, if you’re reading an article on ScienceDirect, the Article Recommender feature suggests related articles you might find worthwhile. The feature aggregates and analyzes usage data to show what else millions of researchers who read the same article found interesting; this can save you significant time looking for relevant articles. To work, the Article Recommender must distinguish each user. To protect users’ privacy, it aggregates and anonymizes the usage data and does not personally identify the users to each other.

Mendeley Suggest is another recommender service. It suggests articles you might be interested in by comparing the contents of your Mendeley library with the contents of the libraries of other Mendeley users – again without divulging the identities of users to each other.

Now imagine taking this a step further. Every researcher has a network and people they like to follow – researchers doing similar work or collaborators at different institutions, for example. With the traditional scientific literature, it’s already possible for a researcher to learn from what that network has published. With usage data, it could even be possible for researchers to learn from what their networks have downloaded or saved. If done well – respecting privacy and confidentiality – this would help researchers find relevant information even more quickly.

By interviewing people who use Elsevier’s platforms, we have learned that in a professional work environment, many people are quite happy to share information about the articles they find interesting, but for others, this could be risky in terms of releasing information about a sensitive project they’re working on. So while we can add value by knowing more about people, we have to ensure we’re taking careful steps in how we deal with that data.

Our commitment to data privacy

Elsevier is committed to satisfying user needs and expectations by building personalized information solutions that provide maximum value while respecting data privacy. Our Privacy Principles, which underlie our product development, reflect this commitment:

  1. Value: Collect and use personal information to facilitate efficiency and productivity in research, healthcare and education.
  2. Transparency: Inform users about the personal information we collect and how and why we use and share it.
  3. Choice: Give users choice over the collection, use and sharing of their personal information.
  4. Anonymization: Anonymize and aggregate personal information where individual identification is not necessary.
  5. Accountability: Act as a responsible steward of personal information.

Although we are unveiling these Privacy Principles today, our commitment to user privacy is long standing. Our privacy program, established over a decade ago and led by our Data Protection Officer, is global in scope and informed by industry guidelines. Privacy governance is supported by a cross-functional council of senior leaders from across the organization and a team of Certified Information Privacy Professionals.

We recognize our responsibility to respect and protect personal data. When we design and develop products, for example, we think about how to build in more granular options for choice and control. In the future, we hope to pull these privacy settings for our products and services together so users can manage them all in one place.

To continue to add value for our users and maintain their trust and confidence, we need to collaborate with them. We are talking with libraries and other publishers about how best to provide useful products and services and continue to protect data privacy. As we develop more products and services with our customers’ needs in mind, this collaboration will be ever more important.

Elsevier Connect Contributor

IJsbrand Jan Aalbersberg, PhDDr. IJsbrand Jan Aalbersberg is Senior VP of Research Integrity for Elsevier. After joining the company in 1997, he served as VP of Technology at Elsevier Engineering Information from 1999 to 2002. As Technology Director in Elsevier Science & Technology from 2002 to 2005, he was one of the initiators of Scopus, responsible for its publishing-technology connection. In 2009, he started to focus on new publishing formats, leading Content Innovation and Article of the Future activities at Elsevier and started a number of initiatives related to research data. His current position, which he has held since 2015, focuses on the integrity of both the content and the products that Elsevier offers to the researcher.

Dr. Aalbersberg holds a PhD in theoretical computer science from Leiden University in the Netherlands. He is based in Amsterdam.

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