One of the clear results of Sci-Hub’s mass piracy has been the recognition across the scholarly publishing community that our authentication systems are no longer fit for purpose. Journals and other academic products still rely on IP ranges for authentication, a system that most other internet products long ago replaced with better, more secure methodologies.
Modern authentication systems are coming soon to scholarly publications, have no doubt. But with them come questions about user privacy. Methods like two-factor authentication involve a much more granular identification of the user, rather than just knowing that someone at University X is looking at a paper. While journal marketers and advertisers are both very excited about the new possibilities this will open up, they are in opposition to policies of academic libraries, which put great stock in the anonymity of resource usage. There is likely a battle ahead, and a balance will need to be struck between the new services that can be offered and the library’s desire to keep user records secret.
Outside of academia, however, this ship has sailed. Those same academics whose privacy is being carefully guarded by their library stewards constantly give up much more detailed information about their lives to the online services that rule most of our lives, mainly Google and Facebook. These services are so ubiquitous, that as the video below notes, it’s pretty amazing what people are willing to give up for as little as the price of a cup of coffee.
Given that we live in a surveillance society, and that the closest hope for a viable business model that companies like ResearchGate and Academia.edu have requires spying on researchers and collecting information on what they’re reading and discussing, is this still a fight worth having?