Ethical issues in web data mining
Web mining refers to the whole of data mining and related techniques that are used to automatically discover and extract information from web documents and services. When used in a business context and applied to some type of personal data, it helps companies to build detailed customer profiles, and gain marketing intelligence. Web mining does, however, pose a threat to some important ethical values like privacy and individuality. Web mining makes it difficult for an individual to autonomously control the unveiling and dissemination of data about his/her private life. To study these threats, we distinguish between `content and structure mining' and `usage mining.' Web content and structure mining is a cause for concern when data published on the web in a certain context is mined and combined with other data for use in a totally different context. Web usage mining raises privacy concerns when web users are traced, and their actions are analysed without their knowledge. Furthermore, both types of web mining are often used to create customer files with a strong tendency of judging and treating people on the basis of group characteristics instead of on their own individual characteristics and merits (referred to as de-individualisation). Although there are a variety of solutions to privacy-problems, none of these solutions offers sufficient protection. Only a combined solution package consisting of solutions at an individual as well as a collective level can contribute to release some of the tension between the advantages and the disadvantages of web mining. The values of privacy and individuality should be respected and protected to make sure that people are judged and treated fairly. People should be aware of the seriousness of the dangers and continuously discuss these ethical issues. This should be a joint responsibility shared by web miners (both adopters and developers), web users, and governments.