Posted by: Jill Spencer | June 4, 2013

Data Mining: Should Students Understand Its Implications?

“This is John.  I’ve called to make arrangements for delivery of the home health products…”

“I’m sorry,” I say most politely, “you must have the wrong number.”

Then he launched into a marketing pitch.  Click!  I hang up.

First I’m really irritated that this company tried to get me to buy something by suggesting I have already ordered it.  And then, I’m doubly irritated that someone has sold the company information about me.  There is no doubt that this wasn’t a random cold call. They were targeting people from a specific age group; a twenty or thirty-something year old would not have been targeted for this marketing ploy.

This episode got me thinking about all the ways our personal information, likes, and interests are mined through our journeys on the Internet.  My Facebook page now suggests companies and organizations they (?) think I should like.  Amazon, well Amazon always has suggestions of items for me to purchase.  It’s one thing when the proprietor of your local bookstore gets to know you personally and makes recommendations.  But there is not a person at the Amazon home office who is thinking that Jill might like this new mystery.  No, it’s a computer programmed to track my purchases and then spit out suggestions. I know some folks think of this feature as personalization, but it feels invasive, even creepy to me. I really do not want a giant corporation gathering all of this data about me and then possibly selling it to cushion their bottom line.

However, unless I am willing to take myself offline, diminished privacy is the new normal.  So then I wonder, how are we helping students understand the ramifications of personal data mining?  When schools can’t even find the time to teach social studies anymore because of the  hours and hours of test prep, where can they possibly fit in an exploration of global digital citizenship issues.  Perhaps,  in those few and far-between social studies classes they can compare and contrast the Age of the Industrial Revolution with the Age of the Information Revolution–positive and negative impacts on society.

Am I way off base here?  As part of the formal curriculum, shouldn’t we be helping our students understand data mining and its implications?  Civics? Government? Economics? Current Events? Historical precedents?

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