Five Ways Your Personal Data is Being Mined and You Probably Don’t Even Know It

Ways Your Personal Data is Mined without Your Knowledge

  • Social Media Activity
  • Tracking Physical Movement in Stores
  • Record of Buying Habits
  • Embedded Cookies in Browsers
  • Surveys and Site Registrations

There are many ways that companies mine the personal data of current and potential customers so they can develop better ways to market to them. While many do this with the goal of connecting with consumers and providing a more customized experience, many people view it as an undesirable breach of privacy. It’s hard to avoid all of the data mining methods out there, but there are some options for mitigating unwanted observation of everyday activities.

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Social Media Participation

Some of the biggest social media sites currently boast users bases in the tens of millions, which makes them a prime environment for mass data collection. What many users don’t realize is that all of their activity, from “likes” to written comments, may be analyzed by data gatherers. Over time, this information is used to create a detailed personal profile of individual users.

Tracking Physical Movement in Stores

Smartphones are practically a staple accessory throughout the United States, and many phone owners don’t think twice about walking into a department store with their phone on. Some big stores implement phone tracking that logs customer movement throughout the store, allowing the observers to create an activity heat map of the space. Stores also use this information to measure patterns in customer behavior and movement following changes to store layout or product placement. Some even install retinal scanners to track customer eye movement as they shop.

Record of Buying Habits

Any purchase made with a credit card or store discount card can be tracked and recorded for use by data collectors. Not all stores freely share this information with third parties, but they do use it to create customized marketing communications depending on the customer’s previous activity. Opting to use cash during physical transactions instead of cards and asking the bank to keep personal information private can help cut down on mining, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)..

Embedded Cookies in Browsers

Many internet users have heard the term cookie mentioned plenty of times, but most don’t realize just how pervasive they are. Numerous sites, including social media and merchants, embed code into their users’ browsers that let them track their activity after they leave the site. There are ways to clear and block cookies, although it’s important to note that some sites require the use of cookies to provide full features and usability.

Surveys and Site Registrations

Signing up for a discount offer, participating in a survey and registering a website account are all opportunities for collection of personal data. It’s always a good idea to avoid entering name, address and other details regarding personal identity, especially if the site is not reputable or secure. Users should also consider creating multiple email accounts to use for registrations and subscriptions. This can help cut down on data mining and reduce the number of unsolicited messages in the primary accounts.


Complete protection of personal information is not always possible for people who shop and socialize online, but there’s still plenty of options for enhancing privacy. Using proxy servers or other means of hiding IP addresses makes it much harder for data collectors to create an internet activity profile. Methods for data mining changes along with new technology and public behavior, so common information collection techniques are likely to change in the years ahead.

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