You may think nothing of popping onto the internet and performing a few web searches for things that interest you, but did you know you are actively being tracked on nearly every single site you visit? Major companies across the US are tracking consumers who interact with their websites to understand them better. This process is called data mining, and it has fundamentally changed the way we think about data on a massive scale.
What Is Data Mining?
Data mining has existed in some form since the inception of the internet, but it has not been until recently that computers have had enough processing power to make full use of data mining. Data mining involves three separate principles including collecting statistics, using artificial intelligence to correlate patterns in those statistics, and machine learning to teach the algorithms being used which data is relevant the collector.
You may think this type of data collection is limited to online sites like Facebook and Google, but major retail chains, banks, and other online merchants use data mining to find more info on their consumers to help target promotions and other offers that will generate a lead or sale for the company.
Why Do They Do It?
Most data mining is divided up into three categories including descriptive modeling, predictive modeling, and prescriptive modeling. Descriptive modeling uses techniques like clustering and affinity grouping to determine if groups who like one thing may like another.
Predictive modeling makes use of regression, decision trees, and neural networks to predict how a group of people may react to certain things. For example, predictive modeling is thought to have been used by both campaigns in the 2016 election to determine which swing states to target and to build a psychological profile of active voters.
Prescriptive modeling can analyze a set of data and suggest optimizations the marketing team can make to yield a better ROI for that data set.
How To Protect Yourself
It is worth noting that you cannot stay 100% safe and opt out of data mining because the data collection process is done with your consent when you sign up for an app or agree to use an online service. However, there are a handful of extensions like Privacy Badger and Ghostery that aim to make data collection harder for these companies by blocking the most commonly used methods for data collection.