You might say it started way back to the time when bar codes came to prominence. Or maybe it starts with the first census. The fact remains that data mining (collecting and finding correlations or patterns among dozens of fields in large relational databases) is valuable information that allows businesses to control their inventory, seize upon trends and overall cut costs. How this information is collected and stored behind the scenes begins with something as simple as signing up for Facebook or a Google account.
Most "privacy" agreements (for average "free" web use) ask the user to allow the webmasters (yeah remember that term?) to collect IP addresses and operating systems, web pages and ads clicked on, as well as unique identifiers; including mobile device identification numbers (that can identify the physical location of such devices), cookies, web beacons, bandwidth speed and information about the software programs installed on your computer. Then there are the basic demographics; including name, postal address, and telephone number, age, gender, income level, interests, purchase behavior, and personal navigation data . You get the picture? Think of how this information can be used as a tool in the marketplace. You can also imagine how it could be abused in the areas of violation of personal information (such as selling the information to third party vendors) the user never intended to have interface with.
In a recent report on CBS's 60 Minutes, correspondent Steve Kroft reported that these "data brokers, are collecting, analyzing and packaging some of our most sensitive personal information and selling it as a commodity...to each other, to advertisers, even the government, often without our direct knowledge. Much of this is the kind of harmless consumer marketing that's been going on for decades. What's changed is the volume and nature of the data being mined from the Internet and our mobile devices, and the growth of a multibillion dollar industry that operates in the shadows with virtually no oversight."
So the next time you want to find out what character you would be from Star Wars, you might want to think about how your further contributing to your "dossier". That is what large data broker firms like Acxiom, (a marketing giant) refers to when they brag they have, on average, 1,500 pieces of information on more than 200 million Americans (this according to the CBS report).
Unfortunately the average consumers have passed the point of no return in terms of the size (and use) of their personal dossier without some kind of government intervention. But wait, doesn't the NSA get some of their own data from the same well? And so the game plays on.