Data mining has slowly, and silently, pervaded into the lives of everyday digital consumers. Using Gmail? Look at the advertisements on the right hand side of the screen and notice that theyâ€™re related to the contents of your e-mail. Are you a social networker? Youâ€™ve released information about yourself onto the Internet for almost anyone to see, collect, and use. Use a telephone? The government has filters on all international phone calls monitoring your conversation and electronically recording your phone call. The ability to be monitored has reached levels never before imaginable. What does this mean to our rights to privacy? How can we be sure that our humanity is preserved if we become binary entities? What are the limits of digital data mining in a modern, connected worldview? These are the questions that I plan to answer in this essay.
What are some major ethical implications of data mining? One major issue is whether a personâ€™s basic rights are being violated when someone is collecting information about them, and they donâ€™t know that it is happening. While it wouldnâ€™t be fair to say that this question has never been asked, it has never been truly answered. When itâ€™s beneficial (Vascellaro), then maybe the user doesnâ€™t mind. However, when things go wrong (Zeller Jr.), then the userâ€™s very identity is in danger of being rewritten. Another issue that needs to be addressed is the question of ownership. Who owns the path through which you travel the Internet? This is in fact very valuable data, and an organization named Alexa (http://www.alexa.com) gathers this information to rank websites. The result â€“ whether explicitly or tacitly gathered, there is a trail of oneâ€™s voyages across the World Wide Web, and personal information can be gleaned from this trail. The owner of this information isnâ€™t the trailblazer. Also, I think itâ€™s important to look at the role of government in this arena. The government is often labeled as, â€œBig Brotherâ€, but it has the opportunity to help with the regulation and governance of this issue (Arrington).
The issue of ethics in data mining is by no means new in computer science, but the questions surrounding the issue seem to lack concrete answers. While ethics lack concrete answers in general, it is the shortage of constructive dialogue that seems to be holding back the potential development of solutions in the realm of data mining and the Internet. I think that it is generally held that there is a technological fix to the issue of privacy and data mining, but I disagree, and I think that this is a social question that must be answered by the masses and not the experts.