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June 9, 2020

Privacy Tip of the Week: Avoid Data Mining

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It’s no secret that companies want your data. It’s one of the easiest ways for them to make money. However, if they just asked for it, most consumers would say no. Why? Because it’s a massive breach of privacy. So instead of asking, companies resort to data mining. But what is data mining and how can you prevent it?

  • The basics of mining
  • What can companies do with my data?
  • How do I stay safe?

The Basics of Mining

Simply put, data mining is an automated process that gathers digital information. Once collected, that info has many uses. It can help a business understand their audience more deeply. It also allows companies to examine past patterns and use them to predict future trends. A variety of sources may provide data for mining. They include websites, apps, social media, mobile devices, and other internet-enabled technologies. Once you agree to their terms of service, the mining can begin.

In general, there are five steps involved in successful data mining.

  • Step 1: An organization collects the desired information
  • Step 2: Servers store the information for later use. The servers may be in-house or cloud-based.
  • Step 3: A data analysis plan takes place. Data mining typically gathers as much information as possible. However, companies don’t always need every piece of info. The data analysis plan decides which information is useful and should be studied further, and which can be ignored for the moment.
  • Step 4: Software sorts the data indicated in the analysis plan.
  • Step 5: Specialists present the data for use.

Because data mining is a lucrative endeavour, some businesses choose to conduct it on their own. This allows their information to stay in-house. However, many mining companies exist solely to collect data then sell it to the businesses who want it.

What Can Companies Do with My Data?

Data mining has the ability to collect massive amounts of data from consumers. This data includes your name, age, gender, email address and phone number, birthday, likes, dislikes, photographs, social media posts, and more. It can all be used to create incredibly vivid profiles about you and your life. So what can they actually do with these profiles?

  • Send You Ads: An ad tailored to your interests is more likely to get you to spend money. Knowing this, businesses send you targeted ads based on your likes and dislikes, in the hopes that this earns them more money.
  • Sell Them: Your data is valuable to more than just the companies who gather it. Third-parties, like other organizations or even governments, want it too. Once collected, a business may sell your profile to other groups for profit.
  • Use Your Content: A few months ago, a company called FaceApp came under fire for terms of service that allowed them to use user images in their marketing campaigns. Unfortunately, they aren’t the only company with this type of policy.
  • Influence Your Opinion: Your profile can also be used to send you content for things such as political campaigns, in order to sway your opinion on specific subjects. This controversially occurred in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

How Do I Stay Safe?

Data mining happens almost everywhere, so it can be hard to prevent all of it from taking place. However, you can limit some of the collection that impacts you. There are a few tactics that can help:

  • Check Your Settings: Smartphones, apps, and social media accounts are all notorious for data mining. While avoiding their use altogether is impractical, you can try to limit the data collection by adjusting the settings of each.
  • Use a Private Search Engine: Many search engines track your activity with cookies. This contributes heavily to data mining. By using a private search engine with no tracking instead, you can help prevent some of your data from being collected.
  • Use a VPN: VPNs anonymize your session and delete cookies after each use. This prevents your information from getting out to be collected.
  • Limit Your Sharing: A lot of the information companies collect from you comes about as a result of you deliberately sharing it. The photos and posts you publish and your likes on social media all contribute to data mining. By limiting what you share, you help limit the data added to your mining profile.

Data mining happens all over the world, every day. Businesses profit off of your data but don’t have to with the right tools to keep your information safe.

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