Data-mining: Friend or Foe?

Data-mining has become one of the most commonly used tools by companies to sell their products and to satisfy their customers. These businesses pay thousands of dollars to data-mining companies just so they can learn more about us. Our information is collected in several ways. Some companies use tracking devices (or cookies) and others use the apps you download on your phone to look at your contact list and location. While companies make a good profit out of data mining, they are not the only ones benefitting from it. Consumers are also benefited because all the things they seem to like pop up in their computer without them having to make much effort. Nevertheless, data-mining has been widely criticized for invasion of privacy and creation of “The Filter Bubble”.

How does data-mining invade your privacy? Data-mining companies never ask for your permission to track everything you do in your computer. They just happen to be planted as cookies in the pages you often visit. They have the power to know about the necklace you bought for your mother last month or the trip you are planning to do next summer. Some of the data-miners argue back that privacy has never been under our control and if we actually wanted that to happen we would have to opt-out of society. Nevertheless, there is a big difference between what we share and what is being tracked. People can know that you like McDonald’s because you happen to be there every time they go there. But that is not the same thing as they knowing it because they have been following you every day from your house to McDonald’s.

Another criticism is the “Filter Bubble”, a term Eli Praiser came up with to define the situation in which website filters harm us. Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, and many other companies have algorithmically editing their webpage based on our specific tastes. What they do with the information they get from data-mining is use it to show results or news in our computers depending on the things these companies think we want to see. This isolates us from other possible information that we may want to see but don’t know of, or that we do not like but would still like to see. There is no longer such thing as a standard Google search, but rather, a personalized and “bubbled” search for each individual.

Just as we saw with the Target example in class, people can get very angry when their privacy is invaded. Target was right in that case because it happened to truly predict that the teenage girl was pregnant. However, imagine that she was not and that these ads would actually have incited her to be pregnant. Are we really capable of making our choices in terms of preferable brands, companies, or information, or do we really live in a “Filter Bubble” with no real authority over our choices? Is this “invasion of privacy” actually harming us?


Check this Ted Talk about the Filter Bubble:


8 thoughts on “Data-mining: Friend or Foe?

  1. I agree that it can be surprising, and slightly creepy, when advertisements show up after making a purchase online, or even browsing a particular product. At first, I was caught off guard and felt as though my privacy had been invaded. Knowing that someone or some company out in cyberspace knew exactly which style shoe I was looking at moments before was disconcerting. In most situations, I usually wouldn’t bother clicking on an advertisement anyways, but since this idea has been implemented I am starting to get used to it. I have found that these advertisements actually work on me. While many people will still overlook them, I like seeing advertisements that actually relate to me and that I might be interested in. They have reminded me that I want to purchase something, or show me something that I might like instead. Even though I was against the idea at first, I now support it to some extent, as long as privacy is not truly compromised.

  2. Data-mining and pattern recognizing software is new to me. I really enjoyed reading this blog because, and while maybe I am hopelessly lost, I didn’t know the extent of the capabilities facebook, google and other such companies have in censoring what news and advertisements reach me. The TED talk was extremely well done and a perfect compliment tot he blog. I think one of the scariest things that the speaker pointed out is not knowing what is being taken away from you. Data-mining is a feature that imprisons us to the knowledge and information we know and agree with rather than the things we want to find out and debate about.

  3. It is interesting to see the effect that a Filter Bubble has on advertisements. In academia and life, in general, this certainly has negative repercussions. For example, Boston College’s core requirements are designed as to broaden one’s perspective. It is beneficial to experience and learn different things. In the realm of advertising, this may or not be beneficial, only time will tell. If a person keeps seeing advertisements for similar products they may purchase some things but they will quickly get used to the same products and move on. At this point, the filter will become irrelevant and lost its effectiveness and could cut people off from other products they may be interested in.

  4. It doesn’t bother me that companies like Facebook and Google use data-mining to tailor their advertisement to customers because I don’t view that as an invasion of privacy. Those companies have algorithms, as you said, that determine which advertisements should be directed at which people so there are no real people actually seeing what you are looking at or buying. As long as companies continue to only use the information they obtain from data mining to advertise than I don’t see a problem with it. However, if data-mining is used for anything other than advertisements, then I would be concerned for the future of our privacy. Overall, I enjoyed reading your blog and found it informative. The only thing that could be improved next time is adding visuals. Great Job!

  5. Great discussion here. I have to agree that I don’t find data mining an invasion of privacy. As this course will reveal, that is just the way the business world is moving. It really benefits both sides-the business knows how to target customers and like with the Gap example no longer has to “guess”. And as consumers, we are targeted by ads that we want to see, not spam. I understand that this can be a controversial topic but in reality, I see no harm. It would be nice to see some pictures or even the TedTalk itself embedded into the post next time, but other than that nice post!

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  8. The filter bubble and the way companies and websites use data mining to bring those items, interests, or activities we have looked up previously are a definite breach of privacy, and do effect the way we browse the web, in what is presented to us.

    Being pigeon-holed into the “same old-same old” is harmful, in that we are not being exposed to any new material. We cannot learn or even be exposed to any potential new interests or enjoyments, as we are painted in a corner by the filter bubble. This is an unasked-for and unneeded invasion of privacy.

    Use of the internet should allow for us to develop and be able to embrace change as it comes to us. Privacy on the internet allows for autonomy (Ess 51). This allows us to be individuals of our own accord, with no influence from outside sources. We can discover things that we allow to define us, without being painted with a particular brush.

    Ess, C. (2009). Digital Media Ethics – Digital Media and Society Series (2009th ed., p. 51). Malden, MA: Polity Press

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