How to Protect Yourself Against Data Mining

Data miningYou may not know it, but online data mining moves at a constant and steady pace, collecting details about your personal life and habits that could have dire implications in the not-too-distant future.

These findings are documented in Digital Exposure, an article by Elizabeth Svoboda published in the November 2009 issue of Discover.

Svoboda bases the article around “how political campaigns hire consultants to gather data for targeted mailings,” but she also sheds light on the ramifications of our online actions.

Let’s start with the innocent posting of hometowns and birth dates in social media profiles. This data is the determining factor in compiling your social security number, and if that number acts as a password to bank statements, you provide thieves with instant access to your accounts.

Consider research into health ailments, whether your own or another person’s illness. Because your computer maintains a specific online identification, insurance companies may learn through the I.D. that you visit health-related sites and deny your pending policy.

The same type of denial is probable if YouTube videos or pictures on photo-sharing sites tag your participation at parties and gatherings that clients, service contractors and outsourcing firms deem as questionable.

Editorial comments appearing in newspapers are confirmed by a staffer before it’s published but not so when participating on the publication’s online forum. If your anonymous comment leads law enforcement to believe you have knowledge about a criminal act, the newspaper receives a subpoena, and your computer is soon revealed as the source.

It’s a smart move to review your online activities and remove sensitive records or unflattering remarks. However,’s WayBack Machine houses past data, making a clean sweep of your history impossible.

As a small or solo business owner, it’s your responsibility to not only keep your personal and business information private but to also secure client information collected through online carts and membership programs. It’s a difficult task, but a dose of healthy paranoia is manageable as you proceed with caution.

1. Secure sensitive Emails. Free online encryption tools are available that allow you to connect with clients without Email account providers matching your message with ads.

2. Search with confidence. Review data that may be considered as questionable through browsing services that don’t require cookies to be enabled.

3. Snap with caution. There’s nothing wrong with having a great time at events, but realize that some photo takers are clicking for cash, which can wreak havoc on your livelihood.

Is data mining by corporate firms and institutions going too far, or is it your responsibility, as an Internet participant, to protect your data?

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Shirley George Frazier About the Author: Shirley George Frazier is chief marketing officer at Solo Business Marketing, a professional speaker at worldwide business and marketing conferences, and author of Marketing Strategies for the Home-Based Business: Solutions You Can Use Today. Shirley twitters at @ShirleyFrazier and blogs at the Solo Business Marketing Blog.


Shirley George Frazier Shirley George Frazier is recognized worldwide as an expert on business startup and marketing strategies. She is president of Sweet Survival LLC, a firm dedicated to reducing the overwhelm of starting a new business by educating new and current women entrepreneurs on successful systems and techniques. Her expertise is available at 5StarExperience and ShirleySpeaks.

4 Reactions
  1. Shirley,

    Thanks for pointing out the article by Elizabeth Svoboda. I have to read it. I recently saw a movie on the “Big Brother” activities during the dictatorship rule in DDR (“German Democratic Republic”) and later on the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989.

  2. Interesting article Shirley. It probably is going to far, but it is ultimately up to you what you protect and the last thing you want is to have sensitive information out there.

  3. “… posting of hometowns and birth dates … is the determining factor in compiling your social security number … Because your computer maintains a specific online identification, insurance companies may learn through the I.D. that you visit health-related sites and deny your pending policy.”

    Where is all this coming from?? How do you get SSNs if they are private? What “specific online identification?” IP addresses? They change. Cookies? They can be erased!

  4. I work in the data mining space, and feel this is a pretty negative view of the situation. Most data mining companies make a responsible use of the data they gather. They also deal with the data in a neutral way.

    For example, let’s say a non-profit organization wants to build a statistical model to determine which individuals have a greater chance to make a contribution. The model may take into account each person’s age and sex. Some may argue that this is a form of discrimination.

    However, such parameters will be taken into consideration only if found to be statistically relevant. Also, the model may help the non-profit raise more money, and reduce paper waste thanks to better targeting.