Sunday, September 1, 2013

Acxiom prepares to open its data vault for consumers

Posted By on Sun, Sep 1, 2013 at 7:48 AM

ACXIOM HQ: LR company opening some of its data to consumers.
  • ACXIOM HQ: LR company opening some of its data to consumers.
The New York Times reports
that Acxiom, the Little Rock-based data management company, will begin Wednesday allowing consumers to see some of the information the company has amassed about them for use in its business.

The information will be viewable on a free website, aboutthedata.com

The data on the site, called AbouttheData.com, includes biographical facts, like education level, marital status and number of children in a household; homeownership status, including mortgage amount and property size; vehicle details, like the make, model and year; and economic data, like whether a household member is an active investor with a portfolio greater than $150,000. Also available will be the consumer’s recent purchase categories, like plus-size clothing or sports products; and household interests like golf, dogs, text-messaging, cholesterol-related products or charities.

Each entry comes with an icon that visitors can click to learn about the sources behind the data — whether self-reported consumer surveys, warranty registrations or public records like voter files. The program also lets people correct or suppress individual data elements, or to opt out entirely of having Acxiom collect and store marketing data about them.

Scott Howe, Acxiom's CEO, says he hopes the new openness will allay fears about misuse of such information. He recognizes, too, that there's growing talk of federal regulation of the data business. Data can be massaged to target people for predatory lending, the article notes. Or to target high-end customers for preferential treatment.

Howe warns that the information won't be perfect — it won't all be current and mistakes will occur.
Consumers may choose to opt out of the database. If enough did that, it would diminish the value of the data Acxiom is selling. Acxiom is breaking with some in the industry on the strategy. Many marketers have said concern about misuse of the information is overblown. It's a complicated business.

Although the site shows visitors a few facts that some might consider sensitive, like race and ethnicity, it initially omits, at least in the version I saw, intimate references — like “gambling,” “senior needs,” “smoker in the household” and “adult with wealthy parent” — that Acxiom markets to corporate clients but that might discomfit consumers if they knew they were for sale. (Acxiom said that the site includes the “core” facts it has collected about consumers, but that it might add “derived” data, like propensity for gambling, at a later date.)

This kind of anodyne presentation of data-mining, says Joseph Turow, a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, could prompt people to collude in their own surveillance by perfecting their profiles. That would improve the quality and resale value of the data for Acxiom, he says, perhaps to consumers’ detriment.


We've been tracking this issue for years. Mara Leveritt's related cover story in 2004 is one example.

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