Is Your Data Being Mined?
How do you know if your data is being mined? With the Internet evolving as technology improves, there is more room for more information. But don’t be scared of data mining. It’s not that bad. There are all sorts of places on the Internet that collect your personal information but majority is protected.
WHAT IS DATA MINING?
Data Mining isn’t as creepy as you might think. Yes, it is collected by stealth by the websites you browse, stuff you buy, Facebook profile information, customer rewards cards, and so on. It has been done with different mediums for a long time. Phone books, direct mailers, even surveys can be considered data mining. This is how it works. All data collected runs through an algorithm that finds patterns in a general data set. These patterns need to be validated. Sometimes the algorithms find patterns from the training set that aren’t in the general data set. If the patterns meet the desired standards, then companies can interpret it and turn that data into useful knowledge. Companies really don’t care who you are; they just want the patterns in your behavior so they can sell you an ad. The bare bones of data mining is to uncover hidden patterns in behavior, which is sometimes used against us in a barrage of personalized ads but that isn’t always the case.
SO WHAT INFORMATION IS BEING COLLECTED WHILE I SURF THE WEB?
Anything really. 99.9% of the time, companies turn to data mining to specifically target a certain kind of audience. For example, they use an age range, social class, purchasing habits, pet lovers, car enthusiasts, etc. Amazon’s suggestions for you is collected and sorted by things you have previously purchased or even browsed. Most data mining companies sell each piece of information for about two-fifths of a cent to advertisers, who then deliver personalized Internet ads, catalogs, or credit card offers. Ever wonder how the right sidebar on Facebook has personalized ads on your profile? That comes from information you allow people to see, sites you visit, links you click on, even some of your profile information and your friends profile information can add to this. I get targeted ads about snowboarding, movies, books, and clothing with the occasional baby ad (because I’m married and female with friends that are similar in age with children).
ISN’T DATA MINING STEALING PERSONAL INFORMATION?
Many people think data mining means someone in the Internet abyss is stealing your identity. However, there are safeguards and regulations that legitimate websites put in place to protect sensitive information like personal email, login, password and credit card info. Not to worry, the FTC is also stepping in and evaluating how to better protect users (Read more here). Data mining is really used to collect snippets of information in order to sell you a product. And most information about you like your house, marriage, criminal record and education is public anyway. It is just become easier and quicker to search for a collect.
Google even has protected data from your personally identifiable account information when you sign up for services like Gmail, Blogger, Google Calendar, etc. Information can be gained from your browser data and your search history. Google really does care about its users. Things like Google Ad preferences allows you to change your setting and even opt out of having your data mined. You can even go in and correct mistakes.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY INTERNET HABITS ARE BEING MINED?
There is browser extension software that allows you to track your trackers called Ghostery, found here. Each time you visit a site, a bubble pops up and lists all the information data trackers are checking. There are ways to op-out of data mining, but it is a paid service. Reputation.com will do it for around $8.25/month. Inevitably, information collected from data mining could affect things like health insurance, credit scores, dating and education.
In this article by Joel Stein, he explains his experience with data mining and outlines how much information is really being taken from us. He mentions that some companies are only looking small bits of information like anyone who looks at artwork, or who buys coke products, or whoever buys ink and toner. Sometimes the data collected can be off because they have stitched together pieces of data collected from various sources. If you want to learn more about how data mining works or read about Joel Stein, this is an awesome article to read.
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