Ever heard of Acxiom? I wouldn’t be surprised if the answer is no. Despite being an established and profitable company for over 40 years, not many know who they are. Acxiom buys personal information about millions of people, cleans it up for accuracy, and sells it to companies to run targeted advertising campaigns. They are a data collection agency (or data broker).
Your gut reaction may be similar to mine: great, another company whose making money off my personal information. But Acxiom claims to be different.
A couple weeks ago, a few colleagues and I went to hear Acxiom’s CEO, Scott Howe, speak at Harvard. When Howe took the CEO role a few years back, he pushed for transparency, which was historically absent from the data collection industry. Hence, AboutTheData.com was born. AboutTheData.com allows you to view, edit, and remove information about yourself from Acxiom’s marketing database.
On the surface it appears Acxiom is a new kind of data broker, a company who offers consumers more transparency, control, and choice over how their data is stored and used.
But are we seeing the whole story?
Their home page reads “Make data work for you – Know what data says about you and how it is used.” To offer consumers transparency is definitely a step in the right direction, but there’s a catch: we are only being shown a glimpse of the information that is stored in Acxiom’s database. They leave out many data elements that Acxiom markets to its corporate clients: intimate details like whether a person is a “potential inheritor”, an “adult with senior parent,” or whether a household has a “diabetic focus” or “senior needs.” (NYTimes)
Without the full picture, how are we to understand what their data collection says about us and how it is used, let alone “make our data work for us”?
How accurate is the information they store anyway?
I decided to see what information Acxiom had collected and stored on me, so I registered for AboutTheData.com. I was asked my name, address, birthdate, and the last 4 digits of my social security number. To be honest, I wasn’t comfortable providing them any of this information, but it was necessary to test my assumptions.
According to the site, I’m 66 years old, married with one daughter, I drive a truck, and my annual salary range is $100,000-$149,000. None of that is correct (and let’s just say I’d be thrilled if the salary range was accurate).
While Acxiom is making strides in the right direction, it’s just not enough. Yes, they offer transparency, choice, and control of “my” information, but they don’t show all the information they store on me, and the information they do show – at least in my case – isn’t even accurate. It’s hard to reconcile that they’re trying to be transparent with their clear lack of transparency.
Scott Howe admitted that there are flaws in the site and says they’ve collected a lot of helpful consumer feedback since it’s been live. He also suggested that the companies that Acxiom contracts with limit the amount of information that can be shared.
Acxiom hopes to release a new and improved version in 6 months (the current site is in beta). Let’s just say the first version leaves something to be desired; hopefully we can find that something in version two.
What does AboutTheData.com say about you? Is Acxiom’s data collection working for them, or are there gross inaccuracies in your data as well?