Ethical issues in web data mining
- Cite this article as:
- van Wel, L. & Royakkers, L. Ethics and Information Technology (2004) 6: 129. doi:10.1023/B:ETIN.0000047476.05912.3d
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Web mining refers to the whole of data miningand related techniques that are used toautomatically discover and extract informationfrom web documents and services. When used in abusiness context and applied to some type ofpersonal data, it helps companies to builddetailed customer profiles, and gain marketingintelligence. Web mining does, however, pose athreat to some important ethical values likeprivacy and individuality. Web mining makes itdifficult for an individual to autonomouslycontrol the unveiling and dissemination of dataabout his/her private life. To study thesethreats, we distinguish between `content andstructure mining' and `usage mining.' Webcontent and structure mining is a cause forconcern when data published on the web in acertain context is mined and combined withother data for use in a totally differentcontext. Web usage mining raises privacyconcerns when web users are traced, and theiractions are analysed without their knowledge.Furthermore, both types of web mining are oftenused to create customer files with a strongtendency of judging and treating people on thebasis of group characteristics instead of ontheir own individual characteristics and merits(referred to as de-individualisation). Althoughthere are a variety of solutions toprivacy-problems, none of these solutionsoffers sufficient protection. Only a combinedsolution package consisting of solutions at anindividual as well as a collective level cancontribute to release some of the tensionbetween the advantages and the disadvantages ofweb mining. The values of privacy andindividuality should be respected and protectedto make sure that people are judged and treatedfairly. People should be aware of theseriousness of the dangers and continuouslydiscuss these ethical issues. This should be ajoint responsibility shared by web miners (bothadopters and developers), web users, andgovernments.