Businesses relentlessly mine your data and have been doing so for years — have you noticed? Data mining, at its core, is not a malicious action. According to UCLA, data mining is done for a variety of reasons such as market research, product development and buying patterns. However, some data mining practices threaten consumer security and open up a pathway to identity theft. Armed with only your name and email address, an identity thief can potentially access your Social Security number, as Time Magazine reports. While not all of the data that the data mining companies uncover is accurate, the amount of information they uncover is disturbing.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the vast glut of information that businesses have available is called Big Data. From social networks to email inboxes, data sources are varied and provide an in-depth look at a consumer’s life. Google, Facebook and Amazon in particular know where you like to go, what you like to buy and your personal interests. Many businesses make Big Data a major focus to help with product development, logistics, customer support and other business strategies.
Corporations Strike Rich in Data Mining
Of course, sometimes the amount of information that comes from data mining ends up in creepy territory. Target uses customer information to determine likely life changes to tailor its coupon offerings. Target can predict whether a customer is pregnant, and even when the potential due date is. Coupons for baby related items were mixed in among standard coupon offerings, to promote the customer to purchase from a variety of departments in Target, according to BoingBoint.net. In this age of hackers breaching corporate data—and by extension accessing your personal information—everyone’s identities are seemingly up for grabs. LifeLock.com shows the various ways in which identity thieves find your personal information.
Social Media, a Mine of Information
Social media sites like Facebook are ripe for data mining. Even if you think that your profile is completely private and locked down, companies still manage to extract essential data from you. In some cases, it’s because Facebook changes around privacy settings and features so often that it’s hard to know what you’re sharing, and with whom. Defense contractor, Raytheon, created an extensive social media data mining system that picks up data from Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter, reported by The Guardian. Through this system, it is easy to find out where people go, when they visit places, their preferences, and get access to GPS data from the photo’s data. Social media users frivolously share every personal detail creating valuable data that businesses are free to exploit.
How to Protect Yourself
While you can’t prevent companies from accessing all data, you can take steps to protect yourself from malicious data mining theft, and hackers. Opposing Views provides a number of steps you can take to limit the amount of information available about you online. Check Facebook security and privacy settings thoroughly to make sure you’re only posting information to your friends. Don’t “friend” anyone you don’t want seeing your data, or who you don’t trust sharing it with. Additionally, don’t allow friends of friends to see your posts and pictures, as you don’t know who could access it through the wider network. Use incognito browsing features on your Internet browser to prevent tracking cookies from getting added to your computer. Change your passwords frequently and do not use the same password for all of your logins. Finally, don’t authorize third party applications on your Facebook or other social media profiles.
About the Author: Brian Kane
Brian is a computer science geek who loves to write about new programs that are compatible with Linux machines.