Data mining is the process of collecting and analyzing data and organizing it into useful information to increase revenue, cut costs or increase the effectiveness of advertisement and other marketing activities.
Facebook does this to us every day. If you “like” photography, you will see Ashton Kutcher pop up on the side of your home page holding the new Nikon camera. If you check in at Starbucks a few times, Starbucks and other coffee ads will come up more often than Redbull or Vitamin Water. When you Google smartphones, the ads that come up in your “junk mail” are about iPhones and Droids.
These companies know you; they know your demographics, like age, gender and ethnicity. They can figure out where you live and what you do for a living. With data mining, they can tell what hobbies and sports you enjoy. This information is used to narrow down what can be sold to you. For example, if you’re lactose intolerant, the dairy companies will not waste their efforts advertising to you.
With all of this information at the fingertips of the most powerful companies in our society, there is the question of what is too far and how much of this is OK. Is it dangerous to let people in these fields know this much about us?
The answer is not straightforward. Some would argue that it is an invasion of privacy. To some extent this may be true, because companies go out of their way to know what you want and what to try selling to you. However, this is not an entirely bad thing either.
People watch television and mute the commercials because they are annoying, and much of the time irrelevant. We are attracted to the links on the ads we see online if the ads show us certain buzzwords we like or are interested in. So why wouldn’t it be better to only see advertisements we like?
On TV, the channels and shows do research on who is watching at what time. So the ads on the travel channel at 3 a.m. are very different than the ads during the evening for the big game on ESPN. This makes sense, and so does relevant advertising online.
Data mining takes advertising to the target market to the next level. On TV, you can play a commercial for a new phone and on a billboard you can advertise a low price on gas; but if you are not interested in switching phones or your gas tank is still full, then the ad is wasted on you.
Data mining allows for more ads of relevance to reach more of the people who are likely to pay attention or be affected by them.
It also eliminates the irrelevant information from being thrown at us for products and services we will never spend our money on anyway.
It is not like some creepy bad guy has a huge file cabinet with a folder for each Facebook user and purposefully collects information just to know everything about each user. The information collected is more general than that.
For example, when a person “likes” photography, he or she is flagged as a place to advertise cameras and the camera ads show up. It is not a collection of information about an individual; it is a collection of individuals to send that particular information to.
Rather than a creep knowing everything about you, it is a collection of random tidbits about lots of people that help companies organize how, where and what to advertise.
There is nothing wrong with what these companies are doing to advance themselves and deliver better and more relevant ads and products to the people who want them.
If there are still people who do not want data mining to happen to them, then they should not be using the websites that depend on it. Facebook never said that it wouldn’t use the information you give it on a daily basis.
The Internet is not separate from the real world. If you wouldn’t say it out loud or tell it to a stranger in person, then there is no reason to post it online.
Phone numbers, important personal information and information that could endanger a person’s safety do not belong online.
Nothing gets fabricated or pulled out of a hat about any person online; it comes from the information put there by the individuals that use it.
People need to make themselves aware of the dangers and possibilities of the spread of their information online and take whatever precautions they feel most comfortable with.
Data mining is not a breach of security or invasion of privacy because the information is all there for the taking.
Additionally, the information that is there for these companies is not used in any invasive ways.