This Case for Data Mining Might Make You Reconsider Your Position on Web Privacy

Illustration for article titled This Case for Data Mining Might Make You Reconsider Your Position on Web Privacy

It's difficult to think of an upside to relinquishing your personal data—your privacy, really—to the prying eyes of the internet. But over at the Atlantic, Brian Fung makes a solid case for why data-mining might actually be doing a world of good behind the scenes.

The National Retail Data Monitor, he explains, tracks the sale of over-the-counter healthcare items from over 21,000 retail stores nationwide. With this information—the types of remedies being purchases, and in what quantity—health officials are able to predict the onset of certain short-term illness.

Data from the NRDM show that sales of over-the-counter products like cough medicines and electrolytes actually spike before visits to the emergency room do. The lead time can be significant — in the case of respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses, it was about two and a half weeks.


Information like this can help prepare first responders for the possible outbreak of a disease, Fung goes on to explain, and while this knowledge probably isn't enough to keep pathogens from spreading, the benefit of a little lead time to prepare necessary remediation can be a lifesaving use of our collective personal date.

Readers: What do you think? What would make losing a little privacy worth it, to you? [The Atlantic - Image via Tommaso79/Shutterstock]

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I don't see why this has to violate your privacy as long as they don't tie names or identifiers to purchases. If they are simply tallying the purchases, that really isn't the kind of data mining that should worry people, in my opinion.