Big data is everywhere we look these days. Businesses are falling all over themselves to hire ‘data scientists,’ privacy advocates are concerned about personal data and control, and technologists and entrepreneurs scramble to find new ways to collect, control and monetize data. We know that data is powerful and valuable. But how?
This article is an attempt to explain how data mining works and why you should care about it. Because when we think about how our data is being used, it is crucial to understand the power of this practice. Without data mining, when you give someone access to information about you, all they know is what you have told them. With data mining, they know what you have told them and can guess a great deal more. Put another way, data mining allows companies and governments to use the information you provide to reveal more than you think. [...]
Discovering information from data takes two major forms: description and prediction. At the scale we are talking about, it is hard to know what the data shows. Data mining is used to simplify and summarize the data in a manner that we can understand, and then allow us to infer things about specific cases based on the patterns we have observed. Of course, specific applications of data mining methods are limited by the data and computing power available, and are tailored for specific needs and goals. However, there are several main types of pattern detection that are commonly used. These general forms illustrate what data mining can do. [...]
Regression: Data mining can be used to construct predictive models based on many variables. Facebook, for example, might be interested in predicting future engagement for a user based on past behavior. Factors like the amount of personal information shared, number of photos tagged, friend requests initiated or accepted, comments, likes etc. could all be included in such a model. Over time, this model could be honed to include or weight things differently as Facebook compares how the predictions differ from observed behavior. Ultimately these findings could be used to guide design in order to encourage more of the behaviors that seem to lead to increased engagement over time.
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