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: