'Mining' has been a word mainly attached to coal, ores, minerals and metals -- all precious commodities. However, since social networking emerged as the latest fad, the word has gotten precious with a prefix - data mining.
Data mining is the process of extracting patterns of data is the definition on Wikipedia.
It is used in marketing, advertising and even business development. However, mining comes at an invasive cost of privacy.
Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, is said not to believe in 'privacy.' In April this year, Facebook got into a controversy regarding changes in its privacy settings, which allowed users' data to be sent to Pandora, Yahoo and other sites.
Facebook's Like button now appears on many websites, to like articles, photos and more. It seems quite innocuous. You Like something and it is automatically posted to your Facebook profile, instead of going through the whole rigmarole of going to your profile and posting and a link.
But the question is - is somebody watching you and tracking what you like and thereby compiling a database of what exactly you like?
A series of articles regarding privacy issues on the Wall Street Journal tracked this question. The reports unearthed that much private information like email and date of birth were being sent to companies.
While some might argue that this is intended to make our online life easier - the best possible links 'suited' to you turn up first - others view this as a deep invasion into their psyche.
The question of privacy is not a new one. When Gmail first became popular and users noticed ads related to contents in their mails hovering in the sidebars, there were questions if Google was indeed reading your mails. Google denied it and stated that it would analyse email messages for keywords to base their ads upon.
The ads were based on the computer's IP address, the content of the message and more importantly, Google said, the messages were scanned by computers, not humans.
Social networking has turned everyone's lives into a glass house. People volunteer more information about themselves and not just in words. Photographs, videos, personal preferences are all available on sites like Facebook.
The Obama administration has stepped up its policing of internet privacy that calls for new laws, WSJ reported, citing people familiar with the situation.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission, whose role includes public safety, is now investigating Google in relation to privacy violations. The violations are related to data collected by the internet search giant's street-mapping service that collected personal information from unencrypted wireless networks, which included personal emails and passwords.
Email IDs and passwords are perhaps the last barrier in the online social world. People share most other information, either unaware that the internet is a vast sieve or not bothered.
Governments are now forced to step in to demark what constitutes are private and general knowledge.
Last week, the National Labor Relations Board stated that a company in Connecticut could not fire an employee for making disparaging comments about the company on her Facebook profile.
However, the company stated that the employee was fired due to multiple, serious complaints about her behavior and not because of the Facebook comments, CNN reported.
Judging by the investigations by WSJ, these innocent comments made on social networking sites spread far and wide.
The investigations revealed that third-party applications on these sites were sending information to advertising agencies like Rubicon Project and Quantcast Corp.
The investigation also revealed there were online tracking companies that used cookies or beacons on one's computer to mine information about personal browsing preferences.
Monitoring used to be limited mainly to cookie files that record websites people visit. But the Journal found new tools that scan in real time what people are doing on a Web page, then instantly assess location, income, shopping interests and even medical conditions, the paper reported.
In such a glass house scenario, a revamp of online privacy laws would not only be welcome but is crucial. Canada and Germany, where sites like Facebook have gotten into trouble over privacy issues, have strong laws protecting the consumer. However, many other countries, including the U.S. are yet to catch up.