More than just your birthday

data_mining250x250A few days ago, it was my birthday and I got a little freaked out. The day was no big deal, of course, everyone has one (except maybe for mythical beats like titans, dragons and the things in those chupacabra videos).
   I received good wishes face-to-face, via telephone, text, Facebook, email and snail mail. I like to think most of them were reasonably heartfelt (folks who don’t like you or think you spend too much time thinking about mythical beasts don’t usually tap the “send” button, right?).
   Two messages I received were a bit chilling, though. One was from a car dealership and the other from an insurance company. They appeared nice enough on the surface, squeezing happy birthday messages between images of cupcakes and balloons and other birthday party tactical gear. But these greetings were surface signs of a hidden phenomenon that goes on right under our feet all the time: data mining – companies and government agencies increasingly gathering data on us and then cross-referencing that against other data in search of patterns. The idea for corporations is to figure out what you bought, where, when and why. And how to get you to buy more. For government agencies the ostensible reason is to fight terrorism. But the NSA is so aggressive in compiling data, it’s easy to ascribe all kinds of nefarious motives to those in “The Puzzle Palace.”
   As Kord Davis, a digital strategist and author of Ethics of Big Data: Balancing Risk and Innovation, says, “The values that you infuse into your data-handling practices can have some very real-world consequences.” (www.computerworld.com/s/article/9243719/Big_data_blues_The_dangers_of_data_mining#sthash.ZFoc61bf.dpuf)
   And when the values of a organization like the NSA are to find the bad guys hiding in the chatter, you better be sure your data is clean. Big government agencies and massive multinationals wouldn’t find something that wasn’t there, would they? I hope not. But the makers of chupacabra videos seem pretty good at it.
   Data mining for finding behavior patterns — and possibly for predicting future behavior — is likely to be included in a future Perry Helion thriller. The current Perry Helion thrillers, The SHIVA Compression and The Atlas Fracture will soon be joined by the next Perry adventure: The Ceres Plague. Watch for it in the spring!

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