Consumers can now get a peek under the hood of the secretive database that marketing companies use to profile them, under a new initiative launched last week by data warehouser Acxiom.
U.S. adults who visit AboutTheData.com can sign up and get a general idea of the dossier that marketing firms use to target them with junk mail, electronic advertising and more.
The website was launched as part of a kinder, gentler image that Acxiom is trying to adopt.
“Companies like ours haven’t historically done a good job of educating people on what we do with data about them,” wrote Acxiom CEO Scott Howe in a blog post accompanying the launch of the site. “We get it. We really do. Actually, for far too long, Acxiom has contributed to the mystery surrounding the world of ‘big data.’ Quite frankly, that’s not OK. So we’re trying to do something about it.”
Consumers who visit the site find out what Acxiom thinks it knows about their cars, home loans, age and household. There’s also educated guesses on shopping habits and household interests.
Much of the data may not be correct. (Acxiom thinks I am a blue-collar craftsman. I’m proud of that, but it’s not accurate).
Users must provide a substantial amount of personal information when they sign up, including their birthday and Social Security number. Understandably, some users will be loathe to hand over such data to Acxiom, but Howe says it’s purely to verify the identity of the user, and the information won’t end up in Acxiom’s database.
“Your answers to these questions are not stored in our marketing database nor used for any subsequent marketing purposes. Period,” he writes.
That doesn’t strictly rule out Acxiom using the information to clean up inaccuracies in data it already holds — such as incorrect birthdays or ages — so users should weigh the choice to use AboutTheData carefully.
The site also doesn’t give users any specific information about where Acxiom’s data comes from — such as, who told the database that I was a craftsman, or what data contributed to that guess? And there is no promise that the site offers users everything that Acxiom knows about them.
But it does give users a chance to correct inaccurate information, and it offers a (albeit clunky) way to opt out of Acxiom’s data. For that, it’s worth exploring.
While users are thinking about what companies know about them, they should consider getting a free copy of their annual credit report disclosures. These go far beyond the free traditional credit reports offered at AnnualCreditReport.com. There are also specialty credit reports, such as:
- The CLUE (comprehensive loss underwriting exchange) report, which covers homeowners and auto insurance claims;
- A tenant history report, which can be obtained from ChoicePoint;
- The Chexsystems report, which covers bad checks;
- The MIB report from the Medical Information Bureau, which covers certain health care claims.
You can also consider taking steps immediately to protect your privacy, such as checking your Google or Facebook history.
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