There are a number of explanations on the web about data mining. We don’t want to redefine data mining in this article, rather we want to highlight a form of data collection that most of us experience every day as an example of how prevalent and easy it is for corporations to track our behavior. Escalate this example to more sensitive, personal forms of data (like phone records), add government pressure to obtain this information and you have an invasion of privacy on epic an scale.
This is a concise explanation of Data Mining from businessdictionary.com that fits the bill nicely:
Sifting through very large amounts of data for useful information. Data mining uses artificial intelligence techniques, neural networks, and advanced statistical tools (such as cluster analysis) to reveal trends, patterns, and relationships, which might otherwise have remained undetected. In contrast to an *expert system (which draws inferences from the given data on the basis of a given set of rules) data mining attempts to discover hidden rules underlying the data. Also called data surfing.
*For example the Google Algorithm
And here’s some more…
The key properties of data mining are:
• Automatic discovery of patterns
• Prediction of likely outcomes
• Creation of actionable information
• Focus on large data sets and databases
Data mining uses sophisticated mathematical algorithms to segment the data and evaluate the probability of future events.
Here’s a rather mundane example:
So for instance you go into your favorite grocery store and obtain a member card. To take advantage of the various discounts you must provide your member number or you will pay full price, so of course you provide your member card to the cashier for every purchase. Upon application for your Safeway card you provide your name, address, age, email and phone number so that the store can conveniently track your buying habits. Investigating this data helps the store figure out how and when to adjust pricing so they can increase their bottom line. Of course you chose to provide your personal information so that you could enjoy the discounts. The grocery store fine tunes their pricing strategy to maximize their profits and you as the consumer enjoy the discounts you think you are getting. In this case Whatever your stance on corporate greed you have the opportunity here to opt-out. In this case it’s all pretty above board.
There is an interesting quote in this article here “Americans’ Fickle Stance on Data Mining and Surveillance.”
“Until we address our rather schizophrenic attitudes – take my data if you’re Facebook; leave it alone if you’re the government – we’re unlikely to come up with coherent policies that draw those vital lines between security, privacy and freedom that we claim to hold so dear.”
This article seems to indicate that giving one of these entities permission to use our data entitles the other and that if we give our permission to one and not the other we are in fact mentally ill. Are we not taught from a very young age that no means no.
The fundamental difference here is that governments either pressuring or rewarding organizations to collect consumer data without our permission is wrong. It’s wrong in this case because we did not grant the government the right to use our data. That permission was given to a separate entity on which there was a perceived mutual benefit.
The moral of the story: The reality of the digital age is that you must be proactive in protecting your data that you choose to keep private because in reality there is no government party, left or right of centre, that is going to stand up for your privacy.