Tag Archives: NSA

Data mining: What government spies and Amazon have in common

Is this hotel pager friendly?
Pagers: Not a bad idea, because probably not on the NSA’s to-track list. Or is it?

Whistleblower Edward Snowden has leaked document after document about how intelligence agencies like the NSA mine data. The agencies have even analyzed social media activity — without the consent of the social media companies or the users — to recognize patterns and predict behavior.

When I think about how much I share online, it makes me sweat. Luckily I’m not into the whole criminal thing, but the NSA could paint a pretty accurate picture of me just using my social media activity — not to mention the other data they could mine. In comparison with the characters government spies probably deal with, I’m pretty boring. However, it’s still creepy to think about how easy it would be for the government to not only learn every little detail about me but also predict my behavior based on patterns and my data.

But data mining isn’t only for government spies. As Mashable explains, it’s how many successful internet companies make their money.

You know how Amazon reads your mind and knows exactly what else you want to buy because of what’s in your cart or your history? That’s a type of data mining called association learning. Other customers who bought your thing also bought this other thing, so they recommend it to you and get even more money in their pockets. It may seem a little creepy, but in their privacy policy, Amazon actually tells you exactly what they collect and how they use it.

This  data mining somehow bothers me less. Amazon doesn’t care who I am; they just want to sell me more. And as long as their data mining means a pleasant shopping experience for me and no random charges on my credit card, I think I’m OK with that. It also helps that they attempt to be transparent with their data mining practices as described in the privacy policy.

But the NSA’s reputation is for anything but being transparent, and they have broken their privacy rules so many times at this point that it’s difficult for anyone to trust them. Sure, I’m boring — but how do I really know what they’re doing with my information if they don’t tell me and I can’t trust them?