B12 Solipsism

Spreading confusion over the internet since 1994

Acxiom Consumer Data Unavailable to Consumers

with 2 comments

Old Number Two
Old Number Two

Funny how this works: databases containing all sorts of data about you is compiled by giant, somewhat secretive corporations, and then rented out to corporations so marketers can sell their goods and services to you, and yet you have no access to the data. For what it’s worth, I took the time to opt out of Acxiom’s system, based on my email address, but who knows if they really removed me. I doubt it, but there is no way to verify or confirm in any case. We are just numbers to them, not people.

I recently asked to see the information held about me by the Acxiom Corporation, a database marketing company that collects and sells details about consumers’ financial status, shopping and recreational activities to banks, retailers, automakers and other businesses. In investor presentations and interviews, Acxiom executives have said that the company — the subject of a Sunday Business article last month — has information on about 500 million active consumers worldwide, with about 1,500 data points per person. Acxiom also promotes a program for consumers who wish to see the information the company has on them.

As a former pharmaceuticals industry reporter who has researched all kinds of diseases, drugs and quack cures online, I wanted to learn, for one, whether Acxiom had pegged me as concerned about arthritis, diabetes or allergies. Acxiom also has a proprietary household classification system that places people in one of 70 socioeconomic categories, like “Downtown Dwellers” or “Flush Families,” and I hoped to discover the caste to which it had assigned me.

But after I filled out an online request form and sent a personal check for $5 to cover the processing fee, the company simply sent me a list of some of my previous residential addresses. In other words, rather than learning the details about myself that marketers might use to profile and judge me, I received information I knew already.

It turns out that Acxiom, based in Little Rock, Ark., furnishes consumers only with data related to risk management, like their own prison records, tax liens, bankruptcy filings and residential histories. For a corporate client, the company is able to match customers by name with, say, the social networks or Internet providers they use, but it does not offer consumers the same information about themselves.

(click here to continue reading Acxiom Consumer Data, Often Unavailable to Consumers – NYTimes.com.)

Numbers Add Up to Nothing
Numbers Add Up to Nothing

and I’m totally in favor of the FTC forcing these companies to become more transparent, based upon the historical precedent of the credit card industry’s standard practice:

Now federal regulators are pressuring data brokers to operate more transparently. In a report earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission recommended that the industry set up a public Web portal that would display the names and contact information of data brokers, as well as describe consumers’ data access rights and other choices.

Julie Brill, a member of the Federal Trade Commission, said consumers should have access to all the details that data brokers collect on them, as well as any analyses that the companies sell about their behavior.

“I include in that not just the raw data, but also how that information has been analyzed to place the consumer into certain categories for marketing or other purposes,” she said. “I believe that giving consumers this kind of granularity will greatly increase consumer trust in the information flow process and will lead to more accurate marketing.”

At the moment, however, information brokers have wildly different policies. Acxiom lets people opt out of its marketing databases, while Epsilon, another marketing services firm, allows people to opt out of having their data rented to third parties. Epsilon says it will also furnish individuals, upon request, with general information about their past retail transactions — including the categories and years of purchase. But it does not include exact product or retailer names.

Commissioner Brill of the F.T.C. said she could not comment on specific companies. But she said the reluctance of the data broker industry to show consumers their own records reminded her of an earlier era, when consumer reporting agencies — companies that track and sell information about people’s credit histories — protested that it would be too expensive and time-consuming for them to show individuals the same reports that creditors could see. In 1996, Congress updated the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970, giving people greater access to the files that those agencies held about them. Today, consumers can easily gain access to their credit reports online.

“What the credit reporting industry did was change their point of view from client-oriented to consumer-oriented, and develop the tools and technology to allow consumers to see what’s in their reports and ensure it is accurate,” Ms. Brill said. “The data broker industry could do the exact same thing.”

(click here to continue reading Acxiom Consumer Data, Often Unavailable to Consumers – NYTimes.com.)

Written by Seth Anderson

July 23rd, 2012 at 6:07 am

2 Responses to 'Acxiom Consumer Data Unavailable to Consumers'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'Acxiom Consumer Data Unavailable to Consumers'.

  1. […] long been dismayed by how powerful and secretive the massive data broker corporations have become. Our data is collected, often surreptitiously, then repackaged and sold to […]

  2. […] user privacy, and Apple is more likely to increase capabilities for its customers to opt out of the massive marketing databases of contemporary corporations like Acxiom, with the exception of inclusion in Apple’s own massive database of course. Apple is […]

Leave a Reply