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Your Life in Pixels

How companies are keeping close tabs on your personal life through the use of data mining

E Street your life in Pixels

AARP Broadcast Publicity

Data mining makes it easy for corporations and government entities to access information about you.

For decades, “data mining” — finding correlations or patterns among large amounts of information — has been a successful tool for government agencies to combat Medicare fraud. But this technique now goes beyond uncovering criminals and has become a multibillion-dollar industry.

See also: HHS task force to tackle Medicare scams.

Despite concerns over privacy, data mining is increasingly popular with private companies who use the information to learn more about their consumers. The problem, says Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst for the American Civil Liberty Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, is that some of these databases are wildly inaccurate and their findings could have dire consequences for your future. This, he says, is the “dark side of data mining.”

Steps to Protect Your Privacy From Data Miners

• Do not provide your birth date, phone number or home ZIP code when making in-person purchases. For online purchases, never provide more information than what is required by the retailer.  Never provide your home and work ZIP code together, this will easily allow companies to identify you.

• When possible, use cash instead of a credit card when making a purchase.

• Contact your bank to “opt out” of having it share your personal information

• Be aware that if you fill out a raffle entry or a warranty card with your personal information, those details will be stored in a comprehensive data base.

• When using social media, seek out websites that show you how to maximize your privacy settings.

• Shield yourself from data miners by using browser plug-ins, proxy servers, or pay services that hide your computer’s individual “IP address” from prying eyes.

• Adjust the privacy settings on your Internet browser to block third-party “cookies” and allow better encryption, therefore providing safer Web browsing.

• Implement “onion routing” to better hide your identity in a heavily encrypted computer network.

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