Data Mining Benefits and Drawbacks
In a world where computers are becoming as essential to daily life as the cars we drive or the telephones we use to communicate, it is difficult to find a person who doesn’t have some particular use for computers. Computers have become the information stores of the world. If you take a moment to think about all the kinds of information a person can and does hold on their computer it is staggering. I myself have all the passwords to my email and bank accounts, the history of every web page I’ve visited in the last 3 weeks, my credit card numbers, the complete history of all my banking transactions for the last three years stored on my computer. Additionally, think about all the information a person gives up to obtain various services from internet websites; name, address, date of birth, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, in some cases even driver’s license number and social security number.
The Issue Identified
Data mining is the process of seeking out and compiling all the information running rampant on the internet to allow companies to make business decisions and improve their customer service. Data mining seems to be mostly harmless. It is just gathering all the information people have already surrendered to the internet. A managed health care organization uses data mining to “reach out to consumers and answer questions they might not realize they have.”1 The US government uses data mining to increase security, Northwest airlines “gave information to the federal government for an air-security project after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The airline said it participated in the NASA program to help the government's search for technology to improve aviation security.”2 This all seems well and good, but there are many people who are against the practice of data mining. “A number of healthcare advocacy, provider and consumer groups fear changes to new medical privacy rules could give a "green light" to banks and other financial institutions to access sensitive, personal medical information.”3 Consider for a moment the impact of a bank denying a person a loan because they are considered to be “not healthy” enough. Let’s say the person is getting over a drug addiction or has a history of smoking, the bank just might deny the loan based the on belief that the person will use the money to either buy drugs or the person will simply die too early to be able to pay off the loan. It seems far fetched, but is it really?
The Dark Side of Data Mining
The seemingly innocuous practice of data mining has a less reputable and more aggressive side to it. Some people and companies “mine” for data by subtly installing applications on users systems to monitor their activity. These applications are know as spyware and they range from simple pop-up advertisements to viruses which search out, record, and report back vital information such as passwords, email addresses, and...