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Mine Your Digital Business

BOSTON – Nearly everyone has a digital footprint – the trail of so-called “passive data” that is produced when you engage in any online interaction, such as with branded content on social media, or perform any digital transaction, like purchasing something with a credit card. A few seconds ago, you may have generated passive data by clicking on a link to read this article.

Passive data, as the name suggests, are not generated consciously; they are by-products of our everyday technological existence. As a result, this information – and its intrinsic monetary value – often goes unnoticed by Internet users.

But the potential of passive data is not lost on companies. They recognize that such information, like a raw material, can be mined and used in many different ways. For example, by analyzing users’ browser history, firms can predict what kinds of advertisements they might respond to or what kinds of products they are likely to purchase. Even health-care organizations are getting in on the action, using a community’s purchasing patterns to predict, say, an influenza outbreak.

Indeed, an entire industry of businesses – which operate rather euphemistically as “data-management platforms” – now captures individual users’ passive data and extracts hundreds of billions of dollars from it. According to the Data-Driven Marketing Institute, the data-mining industry generated $156 billion in revenue in 2012 – roughly $60 for each of the world’s 2.5 billion Internet users.