Perhaps the scariest part of data mining is the not knowing: What do these data brokers have on me? How do they see me in terms of marketing prey? Where does it all come from? Is anyone judging my predilection for impulse buys of cheesy romance e-books? Which is why it’s somewhat surprising that one company, Acxiom, is pulling back the curtain to show people not only some of what it has on them, but also a general idea of where that info came from.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
I checked it out and wasn’t too surprised at the dearth of data Acxiom has on me, as I’m very stingy about not clicking those boxes indicating a retailer can share my info. But still, Acxiom knows I have no kids and no car, I sometimes shop for home furnishings, which party I’m registered to vote in and that I use the Internet, among other things. Those are all spread across six categories: Characteristic Data, Home Data, Vehicle Data, Economic Data, Shopping Data and Household Interests.
Next to each listing in each category is an “i” icon where, when hovered over, a pop-up box will lay out where it gleaned that information from, in general. For example, Acxiom knows I like reading from these sources: Self-reported, Surveys, Online/Offline Registration.
If this is all too scary but you want to see how Acxiom sells you, in general terms to marketers, check this out.
CAN I CHANGE WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT ME? (Answer: Yes)
But what’s that, you say? You don’t purchase plus-sized clothing and in fact have not done so in the last 24 months, despite “Retail Buying Activity” indicating you do and you have? The company warns that it’s not a perfect system, relying on multiple databases and reporting systems as it does, but allows users to edit their information to reflect the truth. You can also tell Acxiom that you don’t want a particular bit of info to be used in marketing aimed at you.
CAN I OPT OUT OF THESE SHENANIGANS? (Also, yes)
You can also opt out of the entire thing — no data collection or storing — but doing so will result in Acxiom targeting you with ads you might not even want, it explains. But clicking that opt-out on the front page will only take you to the online, cookie-based opt-out. The full opt-out for mail and email is hidden here.
WHY IS ACXIOM BEING SO FORTHCOMING?
So why this somewhat uncharacteristic move by the usually secretive data broker industry? It’s all about transparency, says Acxiom’s CEO Scott Howe.
“We are not going to get anywhere by hiding,” said Howe, according to the New York Times‘ in-depth profile of the new free site. “You have to make things visible.”
And of course, if the industry is regulated more stringently in the future, this step toward truth-telling could serve well as an example of Acxiom being a “good guy” among data brokers.
“You may be surprised to know that we are in favor of heightened industry regulation, but we want to make sure we have a voice in the process,” Howe adds. “If we are on our front foot, if we innovate and we are learning,” he said, “we think that earns us a seat at the table.”
A Data Broker Offers a Peek Behind the Curtain [New York Times]