The Business of Data Mining: An Innocuous Practice or Cause for Alarm?
Even before the advent of modern day technology, much of your personal information was available to the public. Someone could follow you to see where you shop and what you buy. A person could go to a county building, fill out some forms and get copies of your marriage and divorce certificates, price of your house and other personal facts about you.
In the olden days, compiling this information was time consuming. It might even have required visiting different records buildings, possibly in different states, to compile this dossier. Now, data mining companies can instantaneously collect information — all you need to do is surf the web.
What is Data Mining?
Simply put, data mining is used by companies to obtain useful information about you. For example, the scanner identifies items you buy at the supermarket checkout, a software program analyzes your buying patterns and gives you coupons for future similar purchases. If you have provided the store your email address, they will email you coupons — coupons catered to your wants and needs as determined by your mined information.
Data mining methods have grown more refined — companies now hook up with browsers and search engines like Google and social media like Facebook to track websites you visit and information you share. The companies hope to find enough information about you so that they can target you with ads specific to your interests, as Time.com has stated. Identity thieves monitor these sights and use phishing, file sharing and even online shopping, according to LifeLock, to get your personal information.
Corporate Data Mining
Target has been targeted for its “creepy” data mining practices. On BoingBoing.net, a hypothetical example is given of a woman who buys a large container of cocoa butter, a blue throw rug and a large tote bag as well as vitamin and mineral supplements. Target’s data mining software assumes she is pregnant, which she is, and sends her coupons for purchasing baby and pregnancy related items. The software also identifies a buyer who weekly redeems her coupon for a Starbucks coffee. It makes sure she routinely gets a coupon for this so she will return to the store again the following week.
Data mining software is not just used to stimulate purchases with coupons. Companies analyze the behavior of their employees in order to increase efficiency and contain costs. For example, Caesars Entertainment has 65,000 employees, according to the Wall Street Journal. The company used the software to analyze trips employees made to the emergency room. Caesars determined there were too many ER visits and that employees could have saved the company money by utilizing the services of an urgent care facility instead. Caesars launched an educational campaign for its employees on the different levels of care and provided them with a list of urgent care facilities. Within two years, the number of ER visits had drastically decreased.
Social Media and Data Mining
In order to steal your identity, all anyone needs is your date and place of birth — information often readily available on Facebook and other social media. Users routinely post pictures of themselves on vacation, photos of their children and pets and even what they ate for dinner.
Facebook “has the most valuable trove of data” available, according to Time writer, Joel Stein, who has visited the Facebook headquarters and talked with Facebook’s chief technology officer. Facebook is perhaps the most efficient data miner there is. It knows what you like and what your friends like. If you set your privacy settings so this information is not shared, then you lose the sharing of information, which is the purpose of being on Facebook in the first place.