Diving into the Murky Depths of Data Mining (for media)

Sascha H. Funk
5 min readAug 25

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Greetings fellow truth-seeking data divers! 🤿 Our mission today is to plunge into the ethically ambiguous oceans of data mining. That’s right, we’re suiting up to investigate how media companies covertly track our digital footprints to serve up creepily customized content and target us with eerily relevant ads. Are you ready to take the plunge with me? Let’s navigate these choppy waters and uncover what lurks below!

Decoding Data Mining: The Basics

First, what exactly is data mining? Essentially, it involves using software to trawl massive sets of user data to identify revealing patterns and trends. Think filters, algorithms, AI — powerful tools!

For media and tech companies, this means relentlessly monitoring information about our online behaviors. What articles we click. Products we browse or buy. How we scroll. What emotions we react with! This allows them to microscopically categorize audiences into buckets. Male, 23, gamer, loves manga, Taco Bell addict. You get the idea.

Armed with our data profiles, companies can serve up meticulously customized ads and content recommendations catered to our hobbies, fetishes, secret binges — even our moods! Makes those eerily relevant ads popping up on your feed after you merely browse a pair of sneakers once seem far from coincidental, doesn’t it? 👟

But why are companies extracting every drop of personal data they can from us? Media theories provide insight!

Uses and gratifications theory says media is designed to satisfy users’ needs. Data mining allows companies to hyper-optimize content down to the last pixel to align with our cravings and preferences. There’s also reception theory — using data analytics to craft irresistible messages that resonate personally.

Yet this entire exchange relies on users trusting that companies will be transparent about how our data gets used. Is that social contract being violated? Let’s dive deeper!

Photo by Stephen Dawson on Unsplash

Navigating Murky Privacy Waters

Now we enter choppier seas. Deontological ethics focuses on inherent individual rights — like privacy. But data mining often clashes with this right by allowing companies to endlessly stockpile our personal information without clear consent.

Think of all the suspect insights platforms like Facebook, Google and TikTok have likely assembled on you from your posts, messages, searches and video views. It’s enough to make you want to delete your accounts and live off the grid! 🏕️

But even if you avoid social media, data miners follow your digital breadcrumb trail across the internet. Mobile apps, connectivity devices, browsing habits — countless touchpoints feed the data machine.

Plus, frequent data breaches expose our mined info. In 2018 Facebook had over 50 million users’ data stolen by hackers. Yet they faced no meaningful consequences. Makes you wonder, are companies ethically obligated to inform and compensate people when breaches occur? Is our data protected or seen as an expendable asset? Lots of murky questions beneath the surface!

How Data Mining Enables Manipulation

Now for the shadowy ways companies can potentially manipulate users through mined data. According to agenda setting theory, media impacts people’s focus by highlighting certain topics. Curated data filters allow companies to tailor the content we see — and don’t see — to align with specific agendas.

There’s also the spiral of silence theory, where controversial opinions get suppressed. Data-driven bubbles and echo chambers isolate users from diverse views. Dissenting perspectives sink silently.

Plus, while “relevant” ads and recommendations seem helpful, the line between convenient and creepy is thin. Does being stalked by vitamin supplement ads make you feel seen, or uneasy about how much data mining knows your habits? 💊

Profiling and Stereotyping

Data mining also enables extensive user profiling — categorizing us based on demographics like age, gender, race and interests. This powers targeted advertising. But clunky assumptions lead to problematic stereotyped targeting — like only seeing cleaning product ads if identified as female. Yikes!

These ethical blindspots surrounding biased data categorization need addressing. Do we want an algorithm assuming our interests and worth based on gender, ethnicity or other attributes? Unchecked data mining creates a voyeuristic view into users’ lives.

Surveillance Capitalism: Data Under the Microscope 🌎

Some warn that uncontrolled data mining enables surveillance capitalism — the mass commodification of user data for profit and influence. Where does helpful personalization end and intrusive monitoring begin?

Whistleblowers like Edward Snowden exposed the scope of surveillance through leaked documents. And as data mining expands into emotion detection and biometrics, risks heighten surrounding consent.

But companies downplay concerns, insisting data makes experiences smoother. Are convenience and connection worth our privacy? Where exactly is the line? It seems difficult find footing on this slippery slope!

When Data Mining Goes Wrong

No data ethics exploration is complete without examining real cases of concerning practices:

  • Cambridge Analytica infamously misused over 87 million Facebook users’ improperly mined data to strategically target political ads in 2016 without consent. A true cautionary data tale!
  • Beyond politics, customized ads based on browsing habits often reflect tone deaf, offensive or stereotypical profiling. Racially biased ad targeting has faced backlash.
  • Features encouraging kids to “friend” approved brands on social platforms are also ethically dubious. At what age can minors reasonably consent to data harvesting?
  • Aggressive monetization of influencer data raises concerns. Multi-level marketing companies buy data to recruit, often deceptively. Data mining surely enables questionable marketing practices.

The issues span from political propaganda to manipulative marketing. While data powers positive personalization, unchecked mining threatens privacy and agency. How exactly should we balance these dueling forces?

Protecting Your Data: Fighting Back 🪝

While risks lurk, gaining awareness through media literacy and taking action helps safeguard data. Enable platform privacy settings, use secure browsers, turn off ad tracking in apps — small steps add up!

Policy reform also shows promise. Laws like GDPR and CCPA establish data rights in the EU and California, pressing companies to adopt ethical practices, not just avoid liability.

But achieving real change requires pushing companies to embrace consent, ethics and transparency. Are they good data stewards honoring our agency? Or using it primarily for gain? We must hold platforms accountable through collective consumer pressure!

Individually, we can also use privacy tools like VPNs, encrypted messaging and anonymized accounts. Browser plug-ins like Privacy Badger block invisible trackers. Be vigilant about sharing personal data and media. A little prudence goes a long way.

The Future of Data Mining: Calmer Waters Ahead? 🔮

As data mining evolves, we must balance its benefits while minimizing ethical costs. Responsibly collected data could enhance experiences and enable positive change. But realizing this future requires asking tough questions as technologies expand data harvesting through biometrics, emotion detection and more.

Do we truly understand societal impacts of opaque algorithms? How will AI and machine learning affect privacy? Can they entrench bias? We must steer companies toward transparency — not just compliance.

stay critical! While challenges persist, through public pressure, oversight and visionary policies valuing consent and ethics, we can advocate for responsible data mining. But it takes a vigilant crew. Our digital rights matter — so stay engaged! 💪

Parting Thoughts And with that, we surface from the depths back into daylight. While disorienting at times, illuminating these data mining dimensions is vital. What stuck with or surprised you? How do you feel about ad targeting based on your data? Share your privacy protection tips!

Our journey continues as technology and data evolve. But through curiosity, vigilance and collective action, I believe we can chart a course to calmer waters ahead. Stay thoughtful, friends! Until next time.

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Sascha H. Funk

Head of Media Studies | BKK | New Media & ED #Volleyball, #MuayThai. https://saschafunk.com — hosting @FunkItPod | it’s not rain, it’s liquid sunshine