On May 17, 2021, Clarivate Analytics announced it was acquiring software, data, and analytics company ProQuest for $5.3 billion USD. This acquisition represents the single largest consolidation in recent years and an unprecedented shift towards monopolistic control over the systems, scholarship, and user data in higher education.
In a conference call discussing the acquisition, Andy Snyder, the CEO of Cambridge Innovation Group (CIG) and chairman of ProQuest, a CIG subsidiary, referred to ProQuest as a “Bloomberg for academia”. The acquisition has been framed as establishing a provider of “end to end research intelligence” with data and content covering students from kindergarten to post-graduate.
This consolidation puts surveillance capitalism at the core of research processes. Combined, the data assets of these two companies create an unprecedented pipeline for surveillance and predictive analytics that risks the safety and security of students and researchers. This builds on a concerning trend of information and publishing conglomerates like RELX (Elsevier’s parent company) and Thomson Reuters building and enabling global systems of data tracking, surveillance, and resale. Clarivate and ProQuest’s businesses center on data — behavioral information about what materials a student is accessing, how a patron interacts with library collections, what researchers are reading and publishing. As seen with Thomson Reuters and RELX, this personal information is often packaged and sold to marketing entities, law enforcement, and anyone else willing to pay. Unhindered and unguided by policy and regulation, this consolidation dangerously narrows the control of a large body of research outputs (and information about their usage) into one company’s hands, further privileging access to knowledge.
This is not an efficiency or market issue; this is an equity issue with strong implications for social justice. This acquisition threatens to exert undue influence on higher education and research by those who prioritize profit over knowledge, negatively impacting the authority, integrity and independence of research. Institutions face further lock-in to costly tools and services, creating lasting dependencies to systems that perpetuate the continued surveillance of their communities without their awareness and consent.
The consolidation of power and market share triggered by this acquisition directly contravenes the text of the Open Science Declaration from UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural organization. The Declaration, recently approved for ratification by the UN’s 193 member states, says that open science infrastructures “... [S]hould be not-for profit and guarantee permanent and unrestricted access to all public to the largest extent possible.” This Declaration builds on global calls in 2020 by science and political leaders worldwide to “ensure the fundamental right to access scientific research and its applications.”
This consolidation enables and encourages the commoditization and surveillance of knowledge communities. This is unacceptable.
We, IOI, ask the community to join us as we coordinate an effort to:
- Audit Clarivate and ProQuests’ data resale and surveillance practices and policies.
- Organize a community consultation on data governance for institutional customers of Clarivate and ProQuest services.
We believe additional regulation, oversight, and action are needed.
Sign now to add yourself/your organization as a supporter in calling for more transparency, review, and regulation into the software and systems embedded in higher education and learning.
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