Ethical issues in Web Data Mining



Web data mining involve the process of collecting and summarizing data from a Web site’s hyperlink structure, page content, or usage log in order to identify patterns. Nowadays, companies are increasingly employing web data mining in order to find their bottom lines and grow their customer base. Using Web data mining, a company can identify a potential competitor, improve customer service, or target customer needs and expectations. A government agency may also seek to uncover terrorist threats or other criminal activities through the use of a Web data mining application.

However, web mining does pose a threat to some important ethical values like privacy and individuality.

Why there exist ethical issues

While web data mining can five companies the data they need to market their products and services to customers, it will also give them access to a large amount of personal information. You can imagine that you are living in a world where all your movements and purchases are tracked. What stops these institutions from selling their data to others? The government has talked about using data mining in order to track the movements of people as a way to fight against terrorism. But what is their extent? As web users are traced and their actions are analyzed without their knowledge, the ethical concerns raise.

Evaluation – why unethical

A recent Georgetown University study directed by Mary J. Culnan, Ph.D., surveyed a random sample of 361 commercial U.S. web sites included in the top 7,500 sites ranked by unduplicated traffic. Of those sites surveyed, 92.8 percent collected personal identifying data; 56.8 percent collected demographic data; 6.6 percent collected no personal data, and less than 1 percent collected only demographic data.

A substantial number of companies across the nation use data mining in order to collect information on consumers. All the information gathered between these companies gets stored on large database which many different people can gain access to. In some cases, the data that is being used by a company becomes public information in which anyone can gain access to.

The problem is personal information about consumers is being released to the public without the consent of knowledge of the person being exploited. In my opinion, many people do not see how this could be an ethical dilemma because they do not realize the potential harm it can cause to an individual. Web data mining can lend information out to other businesses for money or sometimes for free. Users are unaware of how the information collected about them is being used. Their personal data can be misused, or is used for a purpose other than the one for which it is supplied. Hence, it is unethical to use web data mining as people’s privacy is violated.

It is also an important ethical issue with web data mining is that, if someone is not aware that the information is being collected or of how it will be used, she/he has not opportunity to consent or withhold consent for its collection and use.

On the other way, when group profiles are used as a basis for decision-making and formulating policies, or if profiles somehow become public knowledge, the individuality of people is threatened.  People will be judged and treated as group members rather than individuals. When the profiles contain data of a sensitive nature, it could be unethical as people could be discriminated against if they are being labeled as an individual with certain characteristics.



What Is Web Data Mining?

Exforsys Inc., Data Mining Privacy Concerns

Kelly Sh., Data Mining: Where Legality and Ethics Rarely Meet

Wek, L. v., & Royakkers,L.(2004) Ethical Issues in web data mining

Brian Busovsky, Ethics of Data Mining and Aggregation

Stanley R.M. & Osmar R., Privacy-Preserving Data Mining on the Web: Foundations and Techniques


One thought on “Ethical issues in Web Data Mining

  1. Actually I feel difficult to blame the online data mining although it’s very annoying. The main point is that the data mining systems do not hack. Here I assume the data mining systems are still using web crawlers like google. All their information is collected from public websites. If we put our information on some websites, then we should expect the information is read and used by other people.
    I think the problems is actually from the great power of IT. Before IT involve in this area, there are people in companies professionally read newspapers and advertisements to find potential partners and customers and this is generally accepted because they are much less powerful and not disturbing people’s life. However, nowadays, data mining become so powerful with the help of IT that almost all our information is collected and used. This makes us feel insecure and uncomfortable.
    From Kantian’s view point, they are using online people as tools, however, companies using the data is actually treating us as potential customers and trying to serve us. Therefore, it is not completely wrong.
    From Utilitarian, the companies are benefited and we may be disturbed. However, on the other side, it they provide really good service and products, we may also be benefited.

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