Data Mining: Big Benefits or Big Brother?

by | Aug 30, 2022 | Business

There are a lot of things to be afraid of on the internet. Whether it’s a random stranger soliciting you for risqué photos or limited-time offers from unsecured websites, going online is a minefield of dangerous situations. Kids and adults alike are at risk for internet scams, misinformation, and security threats.

Though there certainly are legitimate risks on the internet, there is also a significant amount of fearmongering and sensationalism. As websites and companies continue to compete for clicks and views, information is often blown out of proportion to prey on readers’ animal instincts. It can be difficult to discern what is actually dangerous and what has been sensationalized for media and corporate benefit.

Data mining is one such concept. Everyone from politicians to your aunt’s hairdresser seems to have an opinion on data mining, but in reality, few people actually understand what it is. Before you start to panic about your personal information and who has it, let’s delve into the idea of data mining to understand if we really need to be afraid or if it’s ultimately a harmless practice. Perhaps, like many things in life, we will discover that the truth is somewhere in between.

What Is Data Mining?

Even the term “data mining” is kind of alarming and can conjure images of extracting something that is precious and hidden. The reality is far less salacious. At its core, data mining is simply the analysis of large groupings of data to find trends and interpret habits. It is similar to how professors and colleges collect grades and scores to determine class averages, but on a larger scale.

Data mining combines three distinct principles:

  • Artificial intelligence, or the creation of software and computer programs to have human-like traits.
  • Statistics, or the mathematical study of the relationships between numbers and data points.
  • Machine learning, or the creation of algorithms used to interpret data and make predictions about the future.

Through these three processes, businesses and other entities can cut through the noise of large amounts of data to find true patterns in human behavior. From here, they can predict future trends and make decisions about what to do next.

Examples of Data Mining

One of the biggest reasons that data mining can seem so intimidating is that many people don’t realize how commonly and innocently it’s used. For example, most grocery stores have rewards cards for frequent shoppers. Though these cards do offer discounts, they also collect data on your purchasing habits. The store can use this information to create further incentives, formulate sales, and anticipate stocking needs. If the grocery store determines that most people buy ice cream on Fridays, they may add more stock toward the end of the week to accommodate this need. If they see that customers usually shop on Tuesdays, they formulate their sales around the days that customers usually come in the store.

Another common example of data mining occurs on social media. The algorithms on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook track what users click on, search for, and their other online habits. This allows advertisers to better place their ads on timelines and homepages of individuals who might actually buy their products. For example, if data mining tells advertisers that women ages 20-40 are most likely to buy clothing that they see on Instagram, clothing boutiques can use this information to advertise specifically to this demographic rather than wasting money on ads for other groups of people.

Benefits of Data Mining

There are many ways in which data mining is beneficial to both individual consumers and society as a whole. By understanding these benefits, you can be more informed and empowered to make balanced decisions about your purchasing habits and privacy.

Psychological Research

One of the biggest benefits of data mining is the emergence of raw data with which to understand human psychology. In normal studies, surveys, and data collection, there is room for data to be swayed or altered with minimal effort. For example, in a normal survey setting, it’s possible for participants to lie or misinterpret their experiences based on what they think the researchers want to hear. This is especially common if there is monetary compensation.

With data mining, we have access to raw data straight from the subjects. Rather than always collecting data via surveys, we can get some key information by watching the trends and habits of consumers. This minimizes the possibility for lying or skewed data, as the participants are acting naturally and normally in an uncontrolled setting.

This is beneficial in many ways, not just for advertising and marketing purposes. Understanding the ways in which individuals use the internet can help scientists, psychologists, and researchers better understand human behavior. For example, researchers may see that many people use social media at lunchtime, which could give them information about eating habits. Similarly, the average length of time spent on an app could give crucial information about attention spans and entertainment topics.

Because many people put their location, demographic information, interests, and habits online, data mining gives the scientific world an endless wealth of information about human behavior. This can help to make medical advances and important scientific discoveries.

Community Statistics

Not only does this raw data provide us with information about individual psychology, but it also helps us to understand communities as well. By looking at trends within certain areas or demographics, we can better understand the wants, needs, challenges, and attitudes of certain groups of people. Data mining allows for more honest and objective information, which can act as the convincing factor for large-scale change. Politicians, businesses, and others in positions of power have a more difficult time denying change when there is raw data rather than conjecture.

Tailored Advertisements

Though it can be shocking to see an ad for something you just searched for, targeted ads can be extremely helpful. They allow consumers to find more of what they’re looking for and less of what they aren’t. Rather than seeing ads about topics we don’t care about, targeted ads give us further options for the things that we want. For example, if you’re online shopping for a wedding dress, you may begin to see targeted ads for wedding shoes, DJs, hair stylists, and similar vendors. This is ultimately more helpful than seeing ads for something completely unrelated to you.

Tailored ads can also help you to find brands, companies, and causes that match your interests. With so many options in every industry, it can be difficult to know where to look when you need products or services. Targeted ads help to connect you with the companies that can help you and eliminates the need for you to dive into the depths of a search engine without any leads. With targeted ads, you can amass a collection of businesses, organizations, and influencers who can provide you with the things that you are looking for.

Negatives of Data Mining

As with all things, there are negatives to data mining as well as positives. Ultimately, being aware of the negatives can help to keep you safe, even when you cannot avoid the practice of data mining itself.

Corporate Influence

When they gain insight into consumer psychology and demographics, corporations have the power to sway large groups of people to benefit their bottom line. When corporations understand how we behave, they can use our psychology to manipulate us into wanting certain things.

Unassuming consumers can be easily swayed beyond buying certain products and hiring companies for services. If done correctly, companies can sway consumers into voting a certain way, formulating a certain opinion, or even having a particular stance on big issues. When corporations understand how to influence large groups, the outcomes can be significant, especially in the wrong hands.

Privacy

When data mining occurs, the information about consumers is stored in data warehouses. From here, businesses and analysts can pull the information that they are interested in for a given project or campaign. As the data is stored and awaiting analysis, there is the possibility for information to be stolen or accessed by an unsecured third party. This means privacy concerns for many individuals.

Psychologically, even giving your information in a secure setting has been proven to cause increased anxiety and feelings of vulnerability. The concept of privacy is a major issue in the data mining conversation, as individuals fear the negative repercussions of having their information online.

It is beneficial to remember that any information you disclose online, whether it is your opinions or your birthday, is not necessarily private information. Data mining can access a significant amount of this information, which is unsettling to many people.

Dependent Survival

Finally, it’s worth noting that we as a society depend heavily on technology. Data mining is just another way that we have integrated tech into our civilization. If we go too far with this integration, we may find that we are unable to survive without it. In a situation where society is wholly dependent on technology, the individuals and corporations who run the industry would have complete control over our world. If modern technology collapses, we may find ourselves endangered or extinct.

Though this could be interpreted as an anxiety-ridden hypothesis, it is worth being aware of. Data mining may be putting more and more power into the hands of corporations, which could mean trouble if the economy collapses or the tech industry is not sustainable.

So…Is Data Mining Bad?

This is all to say that there are good and bad aspects to data mining. Though the process certainly has benefits in many areas, it can cause irreversible harm if we aren’t careful. Each individual consumer is entitled to their own opinion about data mining practices and how, if at all, they limit their online information. Ultimately, it’s important to be smart, informed, and always ask who controls the media that you’re consuming.

Contact Better Content Matters

If you need help with your marketing campaigns, trust our team at Better Content Matters to help you. Though we can’t help you mine for data, we can help you write engaging, evergreen content that helps you connect with your community. For more information, contact us today.

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Gabby Vandenavond