Source: Corey Seamster (2020) | Image: Privacy Model - Data Mining
Data Privacy - Making sense of other peoples data
Data is the pollution problem of the information age, and protecting privacy is the environmental challenge” (Famous People, as cited by Schneier, n.d.). Clearly, in today’s world, data privacy is a major concern for both individuals and companies across the globe. In this case, there’s always two-sides of the story. The good and the bad (and perhaps sometimes the ugly). For the good, our society could reap great life-enhancements from the mass collection of data if used in an ethical manner. For the bad (…and ugly), it can also impact life as we know it if we don’t acknowledge its misuse and take the necessary actions to prevent negligence. In general, whether we like it or not, our digital behaviors are being collected and analyzed by businesses that either seek to generate a new line-of-revenue by selling it to third-party affiliations, or simply using it for internal target marketing purposes.

Regardless, it’s critical that we—as a society—take massive action to ensure our data is being used by those that we authorize and under the conditions we choose to do so.

Business Dilemma: Spending Behaviors Exploited by Banks for Personalization (or is it?)

Let’s look at a personal banking scenario, where a local bank has a data mining system that’s being used to study your debit card usage patterns. Noticing that you make many transactions at home renovation stores, the bank decides to contact you, offering information regarding their special loans for home improvements (Taylor, 2020). Case in point, banks are becoming more aware that they could be sitting on a gold mine of information that can be used to characterize, predict, or sway consumer behaviors. Essentially, if a consumer decided to make a purchase using a debit card for lunch, the bank would earn fees from the business the consumer made purchases from, both for showing the offer and processing the payment. Does this scenario conflict with your right to privacy?

Yes, it does! When the bank uses my personally identifiable information (PII) data combined with my spending habits, it absolutely conflicts with my personal right to privacy. For instance, it’s common to see banks send out official emails with newly implemented corporate data collection policies, which require customers to “acknowledge” and “agree”, but they don’t necessarily offer customers many data collection/dissemination options (if any) that benefit customers up-front and in the long run. Additionally, it would be wise if banks had an online option via the user-interface of their customer-portals that gave customers the ability to select what data they wanted to share and to whom it was shared with during the lifecycle of their customer-relationship. Likewise, it’s highly suggested that businesses move forward with ethical strategies to maintain legal standards that clearly outline (i.e. for consumers) how customer data is to be collected and used for both monetary and non-monetary gain.

Knowing that almost all businesses today seek basic PII (i.e. name, email, phone number, etc.) from consumers throughout the entire sales funnel process (i.e. awareness, interest, consideration, intent, evaluation, and purchase), it’s emotional to NOT know what our data is being used for. Even more-so, it’s a simple question of whether or not it’s legal. According to Mullaney (2020), “it’s critical that businesses be open and transparent with consumers regarding the PII they are collecting, where it is being stored, how it is being used, and their ability to access their data should they request it. This transparency needs to be across all endpoints and stages of the customer journey.” This level of transparency and honesty around consumer data and PII will go a long way in building and strengthening a trustworthy relationship between consumer and company (Mullaney, 2020).

However, if businesses that collect our data had transparent data collection processes in place that allowed consumers to decide up-front what data they wanted to be collected and how authorized businesses could use such data would be a different story. On a larger scale, it’s devastating to know that big data collectors like Google, Facebook, and Amazon have been using peoples’ data they collected from online behaviors for years in order to tailor advertisements aligned with consumer interests. With this in mind, will national governments or companies start to put privacy policies in place to protect people?

Luckily, evidence over the last few years have shown that both national governments and companies are taking action to address such privacy concerns. For instance, according to Swinnen (2020), “concerns around protecting consumer information drove the European Union to create new laws that require companies to implement tighter security to protect consumer information while guaranteeing consumers certain rights related to their personal data. In addition, all 50 states in the USA have now implemented their own data breach notification laws.

Healthcare: The Risk of Data Mining associated with Patient information

Similar to the data privacy concerns associated with our personal financial data, hospitals and doctor offices also pose a threat to people within our society because they have knowledge of our overall health in the form of stored records. According to Harrod (2019), the main law that currently protects health information is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996. However, in the twenty-three years since then, technology has advanced to the point where your health information is no longer truly private (Harrod, 2019). Although extreme measures have been taken to address such data privacy concerns, it’s critical that businesses continue to improve their data security measures and also find new and innovative ways to allow people to have a decision in the matter in terms of use cases. Also, it’s important to note that quality data mining requires quality data in order to gain knowledge about a particular data-set. However, basic data points can build up over time and help business outline customer profiles until they have enough information to work with.

What are some examples where data mining could be used to help society?

There are many ways data mining can be used to help our society. For instance, local security forces that serve to protect municipal communities can leverage data mining technology to better understand the environmental atmospherics of geographic locations associated with criminal activities or impacts recorded from national disasters just to name a few, across segments of a town, city, or even a state. As an example, check out Palantir. “Palantir Intelligence is a complete, proven solution that is used throughout the intelligence community to efficiently, effectively, and securely exploit and analyze data, leading to more informed operational planning and strategic decision-making (Palantir, 2020).

Can you think of ways it could be used that may be detrimental to society?

Considering all the aforementioned facts about data privacy concerns, it’s clear there are many ways that data mining could be detrimental to our society if policy makers and businesses alike don’t take the necessary actions to mitigate negligence.



Famous People. (n.d.). 42 Great Quotes by Bruce Schneier that you can’t afford to miss.

Han, J., Pei, J., Kamber, M. (2011). Data Mining: Concepts and Techniques. Morgan Kaufmann.

Harrod, J. (2019, May 15). Health Data Privacy: Updating HIPAA to match today’s technology challenges. Science Policy [Blog].

Mullaney, C. (2020). Transparency Around PII and Data Collection. UJET.

Palantir. (2020). Intelligence.

Swinnen, E. (2020). The Ultimate Data Privacy Guide for Banks and Financial Institutions. NGData.

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