Who scares you more – the NSA, collecting every bit of electronic communication you create on every device in every channel, or Acxiom, collecting and aggregating every bit of data about who you are, where you are, what you do and what you have?
This week, Acxiom, the nation’s biggest data aggregator, in a pointed move to stave off additional regulation, created a new free data portal for consumers to see, read, process and edit your own data. You can even opt-out.
Don’t think for a second this is a gratuitous act of kindness or a public service. This is a bold and creative attempt to pre-empt or soften threatened privacy legislation or regulation. By proactively giving consumers a look into the black box, Acxiom hopes to stave off added scrutiny, reporting or disclosures.
About the data.com offers a free glimpse into what they know about you. You get access in 20 seconds by confirming your name, postal address, email address, date of birth and social security number; the key data points that enable aggregators to find and sort you. These facts are also the critical variables that establish and validate identity in the world of data collection.
Once you’re in, the site indicates where the data originated – bank records, credit cards, merchants, surveys, government records, telephone books, property records, tax rolls, licensing agencies, website cookies, magazine subscriptions, club memberships, etc. The information is sorted into six categories – characteristic data (demographics), home data, vehicle data, economic data, shopping data and household interests. Some easily collected or inferred facts (e.g. race, religion, alcohol use, heiress, frequent trips to Vegas) are not displayed. Each section can be easily edited/updated in two clicks.
Looking through each section you can quickly see what your credit cards, mortgage records, driving license and reading habits reveal about you. You can sense how Acxiom and its competitors dice and slice you into sellable segments. It becomes clear why you get mail and the e-mail from the marketers pursuing you. You’re a baby boomer who owns a home, holds a graduate degree, drives a two-year old car worth more than $30,000, lives in a desirable zip code, owns a Mac and buys lots of stuff online. Thinking across categories, you get a relative feel for where you might fit in society and how desirable (or not) you might be to credit card marketers, charity solicitors, packaged tour operators, airlines, live performance marketers, realtors or luxury car salesmen.
It’s ingenious. Consumers get to see their dossier and correct or update the information. Acxiom gets the benefit of the doubt and the benefit of real-time self-corrected data. And, while you can opt-out; the site warns you that opting out won’t stop the SPAM. It merely will insure you get irrelevant SPAM.
The privacy debate is moot and menacing. Nobody really controls his or her own data. In case after case, consumers willingly and happily give up data in return for coupons, sweepstakes entries or trinkets. The question is who has access to your data and how much trouble or misery can they cause you by using it. Who is worse – a faceless government bureaucrat or a faceless marketing bureaucrat?