Data Mining: the Good, the Bad, the Truth

Data mining is one of those terms which lays underneath the umbrella of "necessary" evils, as it does add loads of value to your online experience; however, usually without your consent or knowledge that your data is being mined. If you don’t know what data mining is, please read on and let us explain to you why specifically Americans should be aware of data mining and all of its consequences (good and bad).

What is “Data Mining” and how does it affect my daily life?

Simplified explanation of data mining.

The data mining definition is a pretty simple one, "the practice of examining large databases in order to generate new information". What this "technical" definition fails to recognize is the potential consequences which come from generating “new information”. Data mining techniques allow companies all over the world to extract, examine, and analyze data in order to be able to better equip their business with new methods of enhancing the user experience (good). However, the other side is what some firms do with this data afterwards, i.e. sell your data without consent to other companies (bad).

When a company (for sake of ease, Company A) mines your data from its databases, it has two basic options: use your data to enhance your experience on their website; OR, sell your data onto another company (Company B). By selling your data to Company B, Company A can make a nice, easy profit on your data as well as provide the information for company B to: spam your email, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with promotions; alter your web browser to implement new types of advertisements; or even go as far as placing tracking cookies or retargeting pixels on your web browser so they can track your movements on the web. Kind of scary right? Almost Big-Brother-esque, except not in a book and in your actual, real life. Best (sarcasm) part is, you are inadvertently making money for large data mining companies which specialize in collecting and selling your data.

Data mining examples of how your online identity is abused.

Have you ever read the Terms and Conditions of any of the websites or products you use? How about Twitter? As an example, Twitter’s T&Cs’ state, “What you say on Twitter may be viewed all around the world instantly”. Twitter makes around 70 million USD a year by selling your tweets and data (such as email address, following, etc) to various marketing companies. These companies then can send you promotions directly. Twitter matches its users to a company database to do so, meaning your profile to an email address for direct advertisement.

Let’s say you have gotten the “big news” that you are going to be a parent and have been Tweeting about how happy you are. Well, Twitter can sell your tweet-data to a marketing agency, who then can advertise to you directly with baby clothes. This specific type of data mining is called “text mining”, or “text data mining”. Text mining is becoming more and more popular as the monumental increase in use of social media and personalization of social media account provides marketers and big data mining companies huge amounts of information for direct or indirect advertising.

How far does data mining actually go?

To explain the extent data mining techniques affect the daily business world would require something like a thesis paper. So far, we have just touched on the tip of the iceberg. Data mining companies range from your average retail or small business store (email address collection or home/work addresses) to credit rating companies, such as Experian or Equifax. the difference is small companies rarely engage in selling your data as its only limited data.

However, Experian is one of the largest known big data companies which actively sells your personal data onto firms like debt collectors or other financial services (usually without your consent). And the difference is - they have loads of data on you…addresses, telephone numbers, emails, anything which you provide when using their service. Meaning? Your credit rating company is making money off of your service as well as selling your data onwards to make even more money. These are just a few data mining examples, and if you want some hard-case proof, actually give the T&Cs a read next time.

So now you know what the “real-world” data mining definition is, want to take some action to stop those data miners?

So is data mining unstoppable? Of course not…

With the right knowledge, nothing is unstoppable.

In order to halt these firms from unfairly mining your data, there are multiple techniques which you can approach.

Firstly, you can manually halt individual websites ability to mine your data. This has to be done for each site as it is assumed, legally (T&Cs folks), by each company that you are willing to have your data mined. A link to do so can be found here

Secondly, you can employ the use of incognito browsers or private sessions when using your preferred browser. These, essentially, stop all cookies and tracking pixels from existing upon your browser. However, this does not necessarily stop companies from gathering your data if you provide it to them, it just does not allow for tracking of your online movement.

Finally, if you want full protection, 24/7, and without the hassle of always being conscious of what browser you are using or what sites you need to manually unsubscribe from, why not give a VPN a try.

As we are a believer in a free internet and the ability of any internet user to be able to make informed decisions, have a look at a third party review of ZenMate. If you want to take our word for it, why not try out ZenMate, a well respected VPN in the tech world which provides fast, secure, and simple solutions to more than just data mining issues. With ZenMate, you stop your data from being abused, misused, or sold.

Furthermore, you can also have access to our malware blocker and tracking protection VPN features, surf the web from any of our 20 server locations around the world, and have the confidence you are being protected under a strong 128 AES bit encryption. You can rest easy knowing your data is your data, and no one else’s to buy, sell, or distribute without your consent.

Let your friends know!