Image by Ahmed Aqtai
What is data mining?
Data mining is the process of discovering patterns in large data sets. In other words, let’s say you’re a company with a huge amount of information on your customers: how they find your site, what they click on, what pages they stay on longest, and whether they ultimately buy your product. You want to design your site so that the highest possible percentage of users buy your product, so you use the information collected on your site to determine what you should change or improve.
Why you should care
Most of us probably don’t care if a car dealership tracks what links on their site we click so that they can improve their headlines and content. Unfortunately, one of the golden rules of the internet is any data that is collected on you can be accidentally made public or stolen.
Ten years ago, AOL accidentally released three months of its users’ search queries, containing keywords from 650,000 users. While these users were identified in the logs only by an anonymized user ID number, the New York Times successfully used information in the searches to identify several of the “anonymous” searchers. And some of these searches are about as personal and as embarrassing as it gets.
It's more than just your searches
It’s pretty clear why advertisers would be interested in our search queries: if you’re searching for car dealerships near you, one of those dealers can serve you a targeted ad with a deal that is extremely likely to appeal to you. Google, however, doesn’t limit its data collection to what you’re searching for: it collects passwords, e-mails and other personal information from unsuspecting computer users via its Street View vehicles, and it collects and analyzes the content of Gmail and sells that to advertisers.
How to avoid data mining
If you’re like many of us here at SpiderOak, and want to protect your online privacy and dodge data mining, we recommend using these tools:
- Duck Duck Go: “The Search Engine That Doesn’t Track You”
- HTTPS Everywhere by the EFF, a browser extension that encrypts your communications with major websites
- AdBlocker Plus “Surf the web without annoying ads!”
- Privacy Badger also by the EFF, this tool blocks spying ads and invisible trackers
- Jitsi Meet for open source, encrypted web video / audio conferencing
- Encryptr, a simple, free, Zero Knowledge password manager
- Silent Circle for enterprise privacy software and mobile phones
- Signal by Open Whisper Systems for private messaging and calling
- Disconnect for another option for private browsing and search
- Semaphor private collaboration tool coming soon, request your invite
For a dozens of more options, including VPNs, anonymous browsing, many more technical solutions, check out Privacytools.io.
What about you? What are some of your favorite privacy tools? Let us know on Twitter @spideroak.