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    • CommentRowNumber1.
    • CommentAuthorMark C. Wilson
    • CommentTimeApr 7th 2014

    Am I right to be skeptical of this?

    Dear Dr. Wilson,

    You are being contacted as a scientific researcher, who uses one of our products (e.g. ScienceDirect, Scopus), or has published in or reviewed on one of our journals.

    At Elsevier we want to help the scholarly community to gain maximum value from the information we provide. This means really understanding how our customers work on a day-to-day basis. To help us form a better understanding of how researchers search and discover information online, you are invited to join our Online Usage Tracker Panel.

    The Elsevier Online Usage Tracker tracks which websites you visit every day, by recording the URLs. The URL records are then aggregated and analyzed alongside data collected from other panelists, to identify search preferences and pain-points. This will provide us with unprecedented insight into how researchers work, and in turn help us improve our products to better serve their needs.

    If you wish to participate in this study, download our tracker using the following link:

    We fully respect your privacy which is of top priority in online behavioral studies. The tracker records only URLs, and all data is analyzed anonymously within Elsevier. While taking part in the study, you can see what is tracked via the tracker icon, and can pause or remove the tracker at any time. You can find out more about this research on our website:

    As a thank you for taking part, for each quarter that you participate in the study, we will pay for a new book to be shipped to a library in Sub-Saharan Africa, via Book Aid International. (To view how the project has supported Book Aid please refer to

    I hope you can help with this important study. Please feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions or concerns about this research.

    Best regards,

    MingXin Zhou Research & Academic Relations Elsevier

  1. I guess the proposition is serious: paying for one book for a quarter of tracking most your professionally visited websites is very cheap (especially since one book does not mean one big, expensive book produced by another publisher).

    • CommentRowNumber3.
    • CommentAuthordarij grinberg
    • CommentTimeApr 8th 2014
    As far as big and unreasonably expensive books are concerned, Elsevier could easily be unrivalled. I'm sure that an average 40-page set of lecture notes posted openly on the internet is of more use to sub-Saharan Africa than a new Elsevier book, simply because a set of notes can be copied and a book in a library will probably not be.

    There is no god-damn anonymity in a tracking tool that records all visited URLs. Enough to have one URL that includes a GET parameter which identifies the user. Guess which MathOverflow user page I check right after I edit my profile there? I'm not saying Elsevier is likely to forward the data they gather to their copyright lawyers; but they are one of the last places in the world I'd want to see with my communication data.

    I thought this might have been an April Fool's, but first, the URL is still accessible today, and second, I'd expect an April Fool's from Elsevier just as much as I'd expect one from Nikita Khrushchev.