Undermined: Explaining Why Data Collection and Mining can be Harmful

I have a couple friends that do not understand why data mining is harmful. They think that giving up their data is natural and that companies will only use it to customize their experience. What is a simpler way to explain the harms of data mining and collection?


I wish I could remember where I saw this. A woman’s preferences, online browsing habits, and so forth were compiled into a profile of her. From this data, the conclusion was drawn that she was, among other things, probably a rape victim. Is this fair? Does it honor her integrity and dignity as an individual? Of course not.

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Try to recommend them to read and think about this Personal Data Ecosystem web page.
I think this picture is quite impressive and maybe it will change their point of view…

Another nice source is here .

Very useful resource is also Crackedlabs web page. A lot of information there, but it is very precisely and scientifically organized study. You can use just some very useful quotes from there or again some interesting pictures like these:

If they will not be scared enough just let me know, we will try to find another strategy…:wink:


Thanks that is really cool. People are sometimes afraid to question what they are familiar with. I want the people I care about to be protected and safe online, and to do that I have to convince them that there are in fact dangers.

@sidnya, your topic has enormous relevance, and the “What is the harm?” question is very often asked!

We have a lot of info on this forum that addresses parts of it, but the problem is that this content is dispersed. I love the information sources that @Bozon has provided!

The issue at large needs to be tackled in a more efficient way. Either by collecting sites like the above that present a clear overview of what is wrong, or create a project ourselves that will provide clear insights into these things. At the CHT they have developed the Ledger of Harms, and they have plans to expand that significantly and make it a crowdsourced project.

In the past I have proposed to create a solution-oriented version of it, called the Harms of Technology Fixes - a pattern library of harms and their solutions - with the acronym of Hotfix. It is at the idea stage and you can read more info in this Github issue.

Besides these initiatives we could develop more targeted campaigns in our Awareness Program, e.g., more dynamic awareness tools. The Dutch non-profit had a page, looking like a blog post, where you are asked to fill in some data here and there, and then gradually the blog post would be personalized to you, and you become the subject of the article. Very cool.

You could take that further by applying some deeper analysis processing and other data known about a person to really create a disturbing read that highlights what is possible. At the end then you reassure the user that no data is stored and it was just an awareness campaign.

Another idea I found on Mastodon (posed by user Strypey) was also very cool to mention. Quoting his post:

“I’m envisioning a user education project that masquerades as a new Silicon Valley startup, with a website and mobile apps. It would implement every design anti-pattern used by typical startups, like asking for access to contact lists on other services to help users “find your friends”, asking for every permission available on a mobile during install etc. But instead of exploiting these, it would email the user, explaining all the ways the information they gave could have been used to do so.”

To which I added:

“Would also be nice to show balloon popups as soon as you were baited into a #darkpattern or generate a report of all of these at the end of your session.”

But this could also include the data collected in sneaky ways.

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@Bozon, I tweeted your great resources here, here and here and posted to Mastodon here and here. To any member: Please retweet, like and comment, to boost awareness of these important links.

BTW, Visual Capitalist demonstrates a great way to apply Infographics for use in highly engaging social media sharing.

I am proposing to create a Campaign from this, called Undermined (working title) and elaborate on the possibilities. I have moved the topic to the Awareness Projects category.


@sidnya this is to me the scariest consequence of data mining, a long term effect of being classified according to various scores.

Those scores then stick with us forever (i.e. the credit score in the US or even worse the social credit score in China) and slowly lead us to a dystopian scenario where we self-censor ourselves in order to avoid bad consequences in our future in terms of services, opportunities and choices. A wrong step in the past would be enough to undermine any future step.

Check out this book.


Would you mind sending me a link to that category?

I agree. Sort of like how perdictive policing uses aggregated data to pin point possible criminals and arrest them or take action before hand. It seems good in theory, but what you have to give up for it is not truly worth it.

Here it is:


When you post you could always link to the awareness category as well…

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I like these ideas! I do not have much experience in web design but I could help in any other way!

But also I think part of the issue is spreading awareness beyond tech savvy individuals to people who use thebinternet casually without knowing the risks. Just a thought.

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@sidnya Yes absolutely! There are many people in this forum (myself included- I work in healthcare) who are not tech savvy. I’m not crippled, but not embraced/enmeshed. Some on this forum may appear tech savvy, but in the last year have become more tech educated by what we have learned here- so we can begin participate in solutions.

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Yes, sure, @sidnya. In general people with various roles should be participating in a campaign. And there are many things that non-technical people can do. And also everyone can spread via their own social media and activate their friends and family, etc.


Yes, was thinking of this one: https://www.visualcapitalist.com/what-does-google-know-about-you/

What does Google know about you? Pretty scary stuff…

I think the most simple way is to tell them they are being ‘sold’ as products.

In line with the well-known quote: “If you’re not paying for it, you’re the product”

Or put differently: If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the user, you are being used.


That is a really concise way of putting it. A good motto for this campaign.

And not only related to potential criminals (like the movie minority report) but most of all affecting all aspects of everyone’s life, from the choice of the university to getting a job interview, bank accounts, health care and so on… in the US data and algorithms are affecting a lot of human lives.

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Yes, I agree that this is most simple. But it has also been used exhaustively in numerous articles and in the news. Most people have heard about this phenomena in some way or other, yet it does not trigger enough worry to change things. Maybe we can make a stronger analogy.

Like we are being studied, right? Data is the new oil, and we are extracted from the stuff. Like cattle being milked, or specimen under a microscope. Up for interesting research to the benefit of the crazy scientists.

We need not make this explicit, like in words of text, but in images and symbolism. I really like the infographics that @Bozon posted. We can make these ourselves, and maybe make them satirical and fun. Lends for easy social sharing, and - who knows - going viral and all :slight_smile: