A Data Broker Offers a Peek Behind the Curtain

The Acxiom Corporation plans to open a Web site that will allow individual consumers to see some of the information that the company has collected about them.

Comments: 148

  1. What's to prevent people from "gaming the system," and changing data and preferences to reflect what they'd like it to reflect?

  2. They have enough data on you to know when you are "maliciously" gaming the system and throw your changes out.

  3. @Concerned Citizen:

    From the story:
    "The home section, meanwhile, which listed such details as the year his house was built and its estimated market value, had incorrect information about his mortgage. 'I don’t have a loan on my house anymore. It’s drawing on old data,' Mr. Howe explained. 'That’s one I would absolutely go in and change.'

    I can see where a consumer's changing the state of a mortgage as "paid off" could be seen as gaming the system. If the system prevents that, it's preventing correct information from replacing incorrect information.

  4. I've been lying about myself online for decades. For example, on surveys I always check off the highest income and educational levels. I'm an MD with a PhD in engineering. Not.

    I'm reminded of the final sentence of a classic short story by H.H. Munro called "The Open Window": "Fiction at short notice was her specialty."

    Doing my small part to screw up the system.

  5. "Consumers are going to receive ads no matter what, he said,"


    Why isn't personal information personal property? What gives these adventurers the right to collect and sell information, and then use consumer's time for free by sending ads and telemarketing for some other company's benefit?

    Time is money. And information has value. And these companies have made an industry on the large scale theft of both.

    And hello there, NSA.

  6. Have you ever filled out an information form for a store and gotten a store registration card, such as at your grocery store, gas station, Wegman's, etc.? You just waived the personal part. Where do you think that data goes? Yes, you get a few bargain prices, but the store collects your purchasing record forever, and sells it for extra income. So, too,with credit cards, etc. Want part of the profit? Buy Acxiom stock.

  7. Very interesting. From the information in this article I could almost conclude that Axciom is a good guy. Or at least might become one. But readers beware!

  8. Brilliant idea! We, the consumer, can self correct the data, and they can sell it for more since they can claim it is more accurate!

  9. If you're not happy with the structure then just opt out !

  10. Who can best correct the inaccuracies in Acxiom's data about you? YOU!

    Beware, that is the main purpose behind AbouttheData.com. Not some altruistic reasons!

  11. This cannot be said too often.

  12. What I don't understand is with all these companies & government agencies who can sift through big data so easily, why is the VA in such a mess? Why is it soooo slow & difficult to do background checks for gun purchases? Why is there no communication?

  13. Because none of those activities are profit driven.

  14. Your article would have been more helpful if you demonstrated how to remove data that is out there. As a former direct marketer I would field the phone calls from panicked women who got a robo call from my firm. They were scared because they were afraid of ex hubby or boyfriend could find them and told the telephone company to not sell their name. I was able to help these people find out where the name came from and help them get off lists so no one could find them. Having worked for a competitor of Acxiom I had access to my own data and was miffed about the wrong information that was ascribed to me. It worked in my favor as making me less appealing to the other director marketers. I even had a non listed phone number that made its way onto my file. I fixed that. One word of advice is not to fill out those registration cards that come with your purchase. Carefully read it. Most of the time the information is sold to a company such as Acxiom. The same is true with contests. Be careful who you share your information with as it will make it to the list brokers. If you want to see who is selling your name, just change your middle initial.That is one trick used to see how a name went. I learned to value my privacy as I saw the amount of information is out there. For $10 you can get a full report on yourself at zabasearch or other online brokers. Many public information, such as a house purchase or criminal record is shown. That is even scarier.

  15. Thank you, Kaja. I used to fill out warranty cards on appliances and whatnot I had purchased, thinking it was a way to register my purchases.

    No longer.

    It doesn't matter if your toaster fails within seven days of purchase, the corporation's name that is on your toaster is not going refund your purchase price, replace the defective toaster, or even send you a note of apology.

    Honestly, the biggest problem I have with all this is: Where are the defective toasters going when we throw them out? Manila? India? The Bahamas? One of the oceans?

    Just more junk that will pollute our delicate environment - and that... that idea of "just get another one" really makes my blood boil.

  16. Acxiom is smart in putting this out there and kind mirrors my 2 year old campaign on the Medical Quack to license and excise tax the data sellers so interesting to know they bring in a billion a year selling data just like Walgreens does. Think about those dollars and add in banks, and all kinds of other entities and look at the money made.

    I had to laugh when reading the comment that said consumers should not expect accuracy as we don't, it's the companies and banks that think all of this is accurate and nobody looks at their models. That's the problem and It's called Algo Duping to where so many never ask questions even when they think something is wrong. Here's a collection of videos that help explain the "duping" phenomenon and how we end up with the Attack of the Killer Algorithms, you will be much wiser watching folks smarter than me explain all of this.


    Problem here is that data selling has reached epidemic stages in the US and way too many are "flipping algorithms" for profit and nobody checks for accuracy and this is contributing to the growing "flawed data" out there and again we don't have enough people trained to work with flawed data and they take everything they see to bank. Here's my latest which I sent to the FTC about licensing and excise taxing data sellers as you need an IT infrastructure built to regulate.


  17. Just as I read the article, here's The Next Big Thing for wannabe entrepreneurs: Tell me how I can anonymize myself.

    Some aspects of life (e.g., buying a home or selling a vehicle etc.) will have to be publicly reported. Why should anyone else know whether I bought a grill or a pill?

  18. I agree with you. Pay cash. That's the best you can do.

  19. Exactly. There's the niche! But I would take it a step farther: How to anonymize myself while living in the center of the modern world. There are plenty of those who are 'off the grid'. It can be done. But if you want to continue to live in the midst of technology with current devices, it's going to be a struggle.

    Side note: The first time I saw a GPS wrist watch was in the early 90's. A co-worker who liked to camp showed it to me. All I could think of was - They will always know exactly where you are. Now GPS technology is in everything.

  20. I just loved this line in the article:

    "Industry representatives say it is unnecessary to show consumers their marketing data because, they say, reputable companies limit that data’s use to innocuous purposes; they also contend that such consumer services would be too technically challenging and expensive to develop."

    Yes, companies using our private information without our knowledge and without our permission are so totally innocuous. Such nice people, really, and if you think about it for even a second you realize that they are performing a wonderful public service. They're like Mother Teresa... maybe the Pope could even canonize them so we can all pray to Our Lady of Perpetual Data Mining...

    I am so totally looking forward to updating my Acxiom profile to ensure its accuracy and supplementing their data with all sorts of new juicy tidbits because it is perfectly clear that I belong, in my entirety, to Acxiom and its ilk...

  21. Best response ever to the Zuckerbergs (Google), NSA, and all the other privacy eliminators.

    For more fun, read Amy Webb's "Data: A love story", how one amazing tech woman used data to find her ideal husband. You will like it very much.

  22. "..."consumers should not expect accuracy..." I don't believe that's what my high school math teacher taught me about results.

  23. I paid $40 to buy information on myself that's available to anyone, just to see what it was. I was surprised to see that I unbeknownst to me have several police records and bounced checks.

    I can only assume that information on other people with the same name as mine have been thrown into one pot. I will never know how this may have been used to my detriment. I do know, however, that the company or companies that decided to do things this way knew what they were doing and didn't care. It makes me sick that they are allowed to do this.

  24. Checking up on your data on this web site is a sure way of getting yourself exposed more to the marketers. It also validates what they are doing. Just stay away from the site and the world will be a better place.

  25. I agree with the posters who feel that this isn't being done with pure motives.

    That said, this is dangerous as the four pieces of info that the article says is required to access your profile are too easy to obtain. There needs to be better security around this but then they will have even more info about you in the name of better security.

    This is a no-win situation for the consumer and our elected officials who allow the data brokerages (read: private, for-profit NSA's) are sell-outs and without principles or morality - now there's a shock, right :-)?>.

  26. They can gather my data.

    They can analyse my data.

    They can get it wrong.

    They can't force me to buy.

    Not yet, although I can see the Empire of Corporatism making 'failure to buy' and 'failure to have debt' a future-crime.

    You can game the system by simply limiting your purchases & debt, & ignoring marketing offers. Not to mention lying about yourself in surveys.

    Substantially reducing your income is a great way of keeping Axciom etc at bay. They don't want poor people, just dimwits with a need to boast when filling out online forms.

  27. Justification is always the answer for the vice of complicity. "We the people" should read, "No Contest" by Ralph Nader and they will get answers to many complex issues.

  28. Wonder what the NYT is doing with the fact that I just read this article?

  29. Read its privacy policy.

  30. When you return to the front page, you will see, on the right, a number representing the number of articles you have read in the past month, and also a list of articles 'recommended for you'. That list, interestingly enough, shows the flaw in algorithms, in that in my case the handful of articles that might interest me are those which I've already read. The algorithm knows I have clicked on an article, but not necessarily why. I've found the same is true of marketing; Amazon is constantly offering me things I don't want because it doesn't know why I bought what I did buy. (Love the teddy BTW.)

  31. Funny you should ask this question -- everyone reading this article is being tracked by all twelve of the following:
    1 Social Network:
    - Facebook
    2 Ad Networks:
    - Nielson
    - Audience Science
    9 Companies:
    - Google Adsense
    - NewsRight
    - Webtrends
    - Netratings Site Census
    - Comscore Beacon
    - Revenue Science
    - Google Analytics
    - Chartbeat
    - Krux Digital

    I've noticed that many NYT articles are also tracked by Doubleclick (another Google product).

    How do I know? I am using PrivacySuite by Abine (abine.com), which makes all of these tracking requests visible and allows me to block them.

    NYTimes, as much good as it does by serving as a news source and a forum for discussion, is still running its business using the same forms of online tracking that most other for-profit enterprises use these days....

  32. You'd better believe I am opting out on day one, period.

  33. If it is my information Axciom and others like them are selling, how come I am not getting any money from those transactions? It seems to me that the way the economy is being structured in the 21C we consumers need to profit from our personal information too.

  34. You gave the information to another company in exchange for some benefit - like using their website, getting their credit card or loyalty card, etc. Read their fine print.

  35. Will this timely and interesting article, harm Mr. Snowden's glorified credibility, or is Mr. Howe, going to Russia soon? Probably not.

  36. The bottom line is no matter what ads you are buffeted with, YOU are the "consumer".

    You can chose to NOT be led like a lamb, and NOT to be a slave to the God of consumerism.

  37. Or as some have called it, Mammon.
    "No man can serve two masters."

  38. Seeing the data that will be made available to consumers on Acxiom's 'About the Data", site, I wondered, "...if this is what they are willing to reveal, I wonder what will remain undisclosed"?

    Then I found it:

    "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 might discomfit consumers if they knew they were for sale".

    Acxiom calls these currently omitted details 'derived' data. What is being revealed now is simply core data.

    Acxicom deserves a little credit, though. At least the company has publicly shouted, "The fox is in the hen-house."

    Et tu Facebook?

  39. Yes, in Facebook the people are foolish enough to provide it to them free of charge. We must not only be concerned with "big brother" (our government's intrusion), but be as much concerned with big business.

  40. I was slightly amused when the NSA story came out because marketing companies have been scrapping up information about us for years. Both are offensive.

    There are other ways to opt out from having companies collect information about you - just use your web browser and put in the search "opting out from junk mail". There are plenty of articles on how to stop companies from tracking your web searches. Oh, there is all of the social media websites, Knowing how to set privacy switches (or staying away) reduces the information about you. No need to log into this system and "correct" information to help them improve their data.

    Just a warning, if you are crazy enough to sign in and have a common name (e.g., Mary Smith), be prepared to see a great deal of misinformation. This will also happen if you sometimes go by a nickname, initials or you have a name that is often misspelled. If you are a renter and move often, expect errors with your information. A seasoned mail carrier with the USPS is good at ignoring bad addresses, computer programs cannot do this.

    It will not surprise me if the NY Times posts a future article about this site being hacked. Remember the company president who published his social security number because his company would protect his information? Sadly, his own company could not protect him.

  41. It's only fair that we have access to all of the information about the data collectors that they have about us.

    If a company is going to be allowed to collect this data then it should post the names, addresses, SSNs, home phone numbers, birthdays, etc etc - everything they have on us for all C-level employees and the complete board of directors.

  42. I recently was targeted with an ad on Facebook--not exactly unusual, except that the item being pimped came from a search I'd made directly on Overstock. I've never actually bought anything on Overstock so they shouldn't have my data. I'm pretty furious. And why exactly does Acxiom have the last four digits of my social security number?

  43. Thank you for the link!

    Be persistent with the verification process!! I had to try 7 times before I received my confirmation number.

  44. Joseph Turow from UPenn is mentioned in the article as a expert on privacy. Not quite right; he's an expert on how marketers and advertisers, working in tandem with manufacturers, retailers and other sellers, use our personal data to turn the Internet into a vast promotional platform.

    His book, "The Daily You," offers a dystopian view of the way in which personal data collection and gathering are turning most visitors online into easy targets for the latest pitch, while our privacy is eroded and increasingly compromised. Think about it the next time an ad appears in your Facebook timeline, or you see a "sponsored tweet." Those are just the tip of the iceberg about what is really going on.

  45. "Having filled out an identity verification form that asked for his name, birth date, address and the last four digits of his Social Security number" he can then view and alter data??? That seems like a fairly low bar in terms of identity verification, and rife for potential abuse... did I miss something??

  46. Acxiom is committing a most grotesque BREACH OF PRIVACY. If, as your article states, all the identity verification form requires is a birth date, address and last four of a social security number, Axciom effectively will be granting access to potential malfeasors to the the private details of other people's lives. Doesn't Mr. Howe realize how simple it is to acquire another person's birth date or the last four of their social security number? . . . Please advise how to opt out prior to the website's launch on Wednesday. I would rather not know what Axciom knows about me, than have ex-boyfriends, nosy neighbors, etc. looking it up too.

  47. Over the years I have worked in places where every employee's social security number was available to secretarial staff and administrative staff on long lists of staff members. And over the years, until recently counseled not to, I've provided my social security number every time I filled out patient visit forms in doctors' offices. It appalls me to think of the number of potential snoopers with easy access to the data Acxiom requires!

  48. If I may add - although the NY State Unemployment office counsels not to give your birth date (if you are over 40) or SS number on an application, all the applications ask for it and generally make it mandatory. If you are applying for a job online, the form will not let you leave it blank - it will not be processed unless you fill out all the areas with a red asterisk (most employers use off-the-shelf software by Taleo for their online HR intake). It is almost impossible now to apply for a job above that of hod carrier except online. And if you falsify any of the info, say giving a false b'date or a series of 9s for your SS number, that of course means your application will either not be processed or will not be considered. Catch 22.

    When you mention ex-boyfriends et al., you also raise a good point. What is to stop a determined stalker from finding the woman who's moved to get away from him? I can see this becoming a useful tool for all kinds of malfeasance from individuals as well as corporations.

  49. I have a standard answer to "survey" callers from any organization:

    "I am well aware that in the 21st century data may be the most valuable commodity on the planet. I am willing to sell the data I own that you seek at the rate of $100 for the first 2 minutes and $75 per minute thereafter.If you are willing to engage in this verbal contract, say so and the clock starts ticking. You are being recorded for contract enforcement purposes."

    Of course I get no takers BUT its amusing to listen to the responses AND it takes time the "survey" takers can't use on someone else.

  50. I think it is interesting when people ask, how did they get this information. Or how is it so easy for them to get it. Even forgetting how a web page can follow ones moves, remember all the warranty cards filled out? How about all of the loyalty cards one uses? There are a million other examples. Now when you use Gmail and google says they do not read your email does that include their virtual eyes?

  51. Just as the NSA has run amok collecting data, so has corporate America.

    Americans need action by Congress to create laws putting both on a short leash without gratuitous exceptions.

    Unfortunately, Congress us dysfunctional to the point our interests are no longer represented. Only the highest bidder gets an ear or a vote.

    Neither the government or corporations can be trusted to police themselves. Their lawlessness and unethical standard of conduct can and will spread to the people and maybe the whole world.


  52. Excellent. Now we will know precisely where and how to attack their privacy invading data collection and can work with our elected officials and representatives to roll it back and pull the plug. It is beyond the pale that activities which our government was never permitted, had been taken up as a business model by corporate entities. When consumers were filling in all those Warranty cards on their products, and applying for student and other consumer loans, companies like Acxiom were purchasing data sets from all sources, and compiling their privates lives, tastes, shopping habits, physical and mailing addresses. Acxion continued buying up more data sets to compile into private dossier of private lives for sale to the corporate customer, which the consumer whose lives and tastes were for sale, had no knowledge or idea about.

  53. I hope Acxiom asks for more than date of birth, zip code, and last four of SS to access the information. Estranged parents and spouses who know this data should not be given easy access to new private information.

  54. "Forrester Research reported this year that only 18 percent of Web users had activated an option in their browsers, called Do Not Track, that informs sites and ad networks that they don’t want their browsing histories tracked for marketing purposes."

    Ah, thanks for reminding me. I'd forgotten about that since replacing a crashed hard disk and reinstalling software.

  55. These firms do not define us as human beings.

    They define us as consumers.

    They believe our sole purpose in life is to consume.

  56. Not only am I opting out, I am posting the link to my social media sites so that friends and fam can do the same.

    From the article: "Consumers are going to receive ads no matter what, he said, so they may as well elect to receive pitches for stuff they enjoy".

    Excuse me, Acxiom, it's not your call to disseminate unauthorized data collection on me without my personal written consent. I don't want any type of ads in my face whether or not I'm interested in a product and it's not your self-appointed duty to accost me with what u think I might want to buy. And another thing, why has our government allowed these guys access to records that include height, weight, age, etc. how else are they getting this info if not from our DL or other forms of government records??? These people have been getting by with too much for too long invading our privacies for their own monetary gain. The only reason they're offering this new site for us to opt out is because of the new consumer protections via the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the FTC are enforcing regulations on these personal information theives... OPT OUT, EVERYONE!!

  57. I suspect this to be a concerted branding roll-out to the effect of, consumers, do not be upset we have been compiling dossiers on you that your own government cannot compile on you without due process of some sort (well, that was true pre-Patriot Act and offshoots). Face it, we are facing the uphill battle, and with the sock puppets and PR fronts trolling in comments, trying to manipulate the conversation to moving people into their options for their data. It is time to pressure our elected officials that we need as much protection from the data brokers, as from our own surveillance state. And to be sure, where our government cannot access this on their own, they do have this data broker and other more neferious ones, to turn to for their data collection needs. This needs to be stopped with legislation, and clearly Acxiom has clearly stated that they intend to block our attempts to roll back their encroachment into our private lives, to whit: "“You may be surprised to know that we are in favor of heightened industry regulation, but we want to make sure we have a voice in the process,” Mr. Howe said. Aboutthedata.com is Acxiom’s bid to have a say in any legislative or regulatory developments. “If we are on our front foot, if we innovate and we are learning,” he said, “we think that earns us a seat at the table.”"

  58. This is sickening.

  59. Worrying about privacy is so 20th century.

  60. How did Acxiom get the last four digits of my Social Security number?

  61. I have been lying to the internet about myself since day one. I change my identity frequently. Until recently, I was known as Pedro Escobar, a resident of Lima, Peru, a graduate of the Sorbonne, with interests in the cattle ranching and oil business, whose wife Linda Gottlieb Escobar is a child psychiatrist and gourmet chief who specializes in the eating disorders of children. They have two children, Pedro Jr. and Rochelle, both of whom are currently enrolled in Mrs. Smith's School for Truly Exceptional Children which is located in a suburb of Lima. The family maintains a string of polo ponies at the Myopia Tree Country Club of Greater Lima. There is a lot more information I could supply you with about my Escobar family -- including the name and address of Mrs. Escobar's hair dresser, the names and breeds of their five dogs and about a close friend of Mr. Escobar named Marie F. -- but that is confidential.

  62. You just outed yourself by posting here.

  63. Go ahead and sign up...if they don't have much on you now they'll have everything before you are through 'registering'

  64. Nice press release, thanks for omitting dull questions like "what info is not revealed to consumers and why?" Or " show me an example who isn't the CEO of the company'.

    Next up. How to create bogus consumer data to render axcioms data useless and incorrect.

  65. What data companies are doing with all these info collected from people without informed knowledge nor consent is scary and invasive. It gives them the tools to PROFILE you and I find that very disturbing. I did a google search for a very specific product recently and the next day, I was shown a display ad for the exact item while visiting a website. Definitely not a coincidence and found it to be creepy.

    Companies should not be allowed to track websites you visit nor attempt to classify a consumer into a sociodemogrphic class based on past actions. If a consumer shops at Walmart, it shouldn't infer working class and offer ads from predatory pay day loan places. By using big data to predict purchasing power and class, there's a danger of being "typecast" and discriminated against by pidegeonholing people into slots.

    U.S really needs to enact the same degree of privacy rights as E.U. It's much stricter there, esp in Germany.

  66. Use duckduckgo.com instead of google. Anonymous searching...

  67. If you bank or pay credit cards online, you have to allow cookies or you can't do business with them. Your browser should be set for the "Do Not Track" and "Private Browsing" options and only allow cookies from sites visited - that will block some cookies.

    You can opt out of allowing any cookies from sites visited but then you have to keep going back and forth all the time to allow from some and not from others.

  68. I want at least some cookies. Once I accidentally picked up music that wouldn't stop playing, and the only way to get rid of it was to blow all my cookies, so to speak. It was an enormous pain to put them back.

  69. It is time to license and excise tax the data sellers. This has become an epidemic in the US and why manufacturing is hurting as banks and companies sell data and make money with data mining algorithms and there's absolutely no regulation. It's all modeled that way. I have had a blog campaign to do this for about 2 years now as I watched it build and it is big now.


    The FTC here too seems to be lost as this is the invisible money making intangible that lurks out there and it's hard for people to see and understand it..everything runs on an IT infrastructure today and regulating data selling needs to be elevated and modeled to regulate as this is a runaway train. I sen ta recent post to the FTC as well for them to read on this topic. What we all fear is data being used out of context to judge us and deny some kind of service or paint a flawed picture of who and what we really are.

    Just a couple days ago I posted about Eli Lilly and Humana and their new agreement to work together to sell data, a new low that competes with the FDA Sentinel initiative that was supposed to be the central area to collect data on drugs and devices and now they found out instead of donating, they can make a buck at it.


  70. "What we all fear is data being used out of context to judge us and deny some kind of service or paint a flawed picture of who and what we really are".

    This is it!

  71. Just wait until the data sellers, the credit reporting agencies and the NSA merge into one big public/private entity?

    That's where we are headed.

  72. Can you please also do an investigative article about another sort of big data sector-- people search sites? White Pages, Radaris, Salespider, Intellius, Spokeo and many more of these so called people search sites have been increasing. They list name, addresses, phone numbers, family member names, email address and other private info. Some are difficult to remove and others, they do it temporarily and put the info right up again.

    I was upset to find my phone numbers and addresses found on these sites and finding it to be like a neverending wack-a-mole game. FTC needs to take action!

  73. Your phone number and address have been public knowledge for decades. Just open up your telephone directory.

  74. The Acxiom web site "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." That has to be the understatement of the year. Acxiom clearly does not want consumers to know what Acxiom is telling advertisers about them.

    I recently commented (to the Tyler Cower Opinionator post) about "the big pushback by people who hate invasions of their privacy". As far as I am concerned, private snooping is a hundred times more troubling than the NSA.

  75. private snooping is a hundred times more troubling than the NSA.....

    I'm not sure why you would contrast the two this way. Circa 2013, private data collection and federal data collection are not separate, unrelated things. Most of the personal information available to federal agencies comes from the same data flows that firms like Acxiom draw on to create their databases. Many of the analytical methods they use to pull useful patterns from the data are similar. They're looking to find out slightly different things, but the techniques for doing so are standardized & well known.

    The dangers to the public interest are similar in scale and kind.

  76. Two things. If it's my data , they have no right to use it without getting my express consent first.
    Second, if it's my data and the want to use it they should be required to negotiate a contract as to how much they will pay me for the priviledge.

  77. Legally, anyone who possesses your data needs only to offer you a way to opt out by request. Until you do, they can use it all as they like.

  78. Tell Equifax and TransUnion that, they've been dealing in your information for years

  79. Actually, this is beyond sickening.

  80. Another reason not to fill out surveys. The first being that I value my time and feel I should be compensated for filling out all those surveys.

  81. The US Government's Health & Human Services' website has a page that describes the function of an Institutional Review Board: "IRBs must approve proposed non-exempt research before involvement of human subjects may begin." Every university and research institution must ensure that human subjects are not harmed by the data that is collected. The data must remain confidential and secure and accessible for review by the HHS. It would seem that marketers (or the NSA, for that matter) are not held to this same standard and, though they may collect the very same data as a university or research institution, they are free to use the data to extrapolate inferences, trends, and statistically significant meaning with, seemingly, no oversight. "My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty."

  82. I wish the Times had asked Jaron Lanier to shed perspective on this example. We ought to be paid for our information, not the other way around.

  83. Having filled out an identity verification form that asked for his name, birth date, address and the last four digits of his Social Security number,


    It does not take much information for an individual to look up information on someone else. That's how this system will be gamed. By individuals.

  84. Any identity thief would love to have your name, birth date, and last four digits of your SS. Look for that site to be hacked and spoofed big time.

  85. This is absolutely correct. Acxiom is opening the door to criminals and worse, with, as far as I can tell, no way to opt out.

    I can't say enough bad things about how stupid and self-serving the enterprise is.

  86. It's very sad. Due to HIPAA regulations, doctors (who may be the most qualified) cannot even view legally a patient record without going through hurdles. People have actually died, missed transplant opportunities, etc, because of HIPAA, and lots of important research has not been done also. Yet, the NSA and free market are allowed to as much private information as the internet will allow. Its all so backwards.

  87. Also, my best friend's family has all died out. A few years ago, she went into a succession of nursing homes. I live two states away, and I am - or was - all she had. (She lost everything due to her MS, her job, life savings, everything.) They kicked her from facility to facility, but I was always able to keep track of her. Then, in 2010, I had a serious illness of my own and lost track. When I got out three months later, I couldn't find her again - I am not a blood relative, and HIPAA rules prohibit releasing any information at all to me. I don't even know if she's alive or dead.

  88. Here are a set of rules I would like to see:

    (1) Any and every attempt to collect information, from website visits, purchases, warranty cards, loyalty accounts, petition signatures, etc. have to state, up front, and clear as a bell, as soon as they start collecting data:

    "The information you are providing to us will be sold or otherwise given to data aggregators."

    -As it is now, it is nearly impossible to tell what data collectors are doing with the information we provide, based on their "privacy statements" which are typically an exercise in obfuscation.

    (2) There must be a no-penalty opt-out guarantee. As it is now, you cannot withhold information (from loyalty cards, purchases, Facebook, etc.) without also being denied access to sales, discounts, etc. You either agree to abuses of privacy, or you don't get access to the promotions. That's too close to extortion to be ethical.

    (3) There should be a central accountability agency, where all data aggregators have to register, report their activities, and provide clear and easy means for ordinary people to see the data that has been collected about them, to opt out from future data collection, and have all current data about them deemed off limits. This should not be up to companies such as Acxiom to decide, if they happen to have the good will, or the business incentive to do so.

  89. A few thoughts about this.

    Many people have posted comments expressing their outrage over the invasion of their "Privacy" -- however the concept of "privacy" means different things to different people.

    First of all, it's important to understand there is no such thing as a Constitutional "Right to Privacy" (the word privacy does not appear anywhere in the US Constitution) - which means that any privacy "rights" which we may enjoy come as a direct result of specific legislation..be it federal, state or local.

    For instance, as a result of the HIPAA regulations, the Acxiom website cannot collect any data regarding that medical procedure you had a couple of years ago. However - what they can collect are your payment and financial records to the hospital - be they positive or negative.

    Also -

    Some people here are annoyed because they received a "targeted" ad resulting from their internet activity.

    First of all - there are a number of helpful add-ons for your web browser - such as "NoScript" and "Adblock Plus" which will defeat many website ads.

    Secondly -

    I find it odd that many people - on the one hand - feel as if they should have a reasonable expectation of browsing websites anonymously and privately -- while at the same time having an expectation that they should be able to access and use the content of those websites for free.

    I often back out of sites from which I have misgivings, and maintain my privacy that way.

  90. So why do I continue to receive Privacy Act Statements from companies I do business with? Obviously, the policies described therein are worthless. Quit wasting the paper and bulk rate postage: give us lower prices.

  91. One way to push back against this blatant invasion of privacy
    is to lie. Give inaccurate and contradictory information when
    filling out surveys. Most especially lie about your birth date
    and mailing address.

    The above does not apply, of course, to situations where you
    are legally obligated to be honest, such as in job or credit card
    applications. But, it most certainly applies when setting up
    accounts on social networking sites.

  92. I actual find this a rather interesting proposition and will log in on Wed to check it out. This data collection is already happening but now we can be a part of the process, which is a thought that I find refreshing. I am OK with giving out some of my information (clearly, I have a LinkedIn and Facebook account, which gives away a large number of details) and would like to hear about targeted products and services that may match my interests based on my demographic, past purchase behavior, etc.

  93. There is a company out there called datacoup that is doing exactly that for consumers.

  94. " Eventually, Mr. Howe said, the site may even ask people for more information about themselves in exchange for special services, online subscriptions or discounts."

    Consumers already voluntarily offer information about themselves in exchange for discounts, etc, every time they sign up for a loyalty card at a grocery store or drug store. The data are obviously tremendously valuable to the companies - the discounts are not corporate charity. But it is far more disturbing that data is collected about us without our consent.

  95. Did anyone else receive a recent request from the NYTImes to take part in a survey? If so, did you?

  96. I get those requests. I decline.

  97. @April Kane: Yes, as soon as I went to page 2 of the online article, a pop-up window asked if I wanted to take part in a NY Times survey. Talk about bad timing / placement! I laughed out loud as I closed the pop-up window.

  98. I answered the first question and then I closed the box. As you can tell, I don't use my real name.

  99. Some perspective please. Marketers have been collecting demographic and behavioral data on consumers for years, long before the internet. I welcome Acxiom's approach, allowing me to take part in the accuracy, types and depth of data used to market to me. If this can put an end to the useless offers I get for a car loan 3 months after I bought a car...I say WOO!.

  100. Opt-IN – not Opt-Out – You Own your Data

    Excellent comment Mike. How did the system get so perverted.

    WE own our data – not NSA or the corporate data thieves.

    I also like Marilyn's idea to that we get paid when our data is used.

    Here’s an article on OUR Privacy Rights

    "Privacy Rights Law Model Provisions - You Own Your Personal Information"

  101. I found this company to be arrogant and completely unresponsive. Under Nevada law I am entitled to get a dump (printout) of all of the data that this company had on me. They told me to go ahead and sue them and good luck. I could have done that but who has time and money to do that unless you are an attorney. I will try again and this time if there is anything wrong, misleading or erroneous i will sue them. The Nevada courts are pretty good in protecting their citizens.

  102. Today is different from my grandparents' when the small towns all knew each other and coul put seller and consumer in touch via word-pf-mouth.

    If you live in America You already are a slave to consumeris - which is what I find creepy. Demographic data -nothing new btw - is the logical extension - a way to make it more efficient for both consumer and retailer.

  103. "In an open letter to Ms. Brill responding to her article, the Direct Marketing Association, a trade group, said consumer access programs 'would lead to more fraud and limit the efficacy of companies and data.'"

    Well then, isn't that just tough for the Direct Marketing Association? Or should we all just bend over backwards to their wishes of making money?

  104. The key issue is how commercial entities must handle opt out/opt in issues. In Europe, those whose data is being collected by a private entity must receive a customer's consent to share that data, this is called, 'opt in'. In the U.S. the Congress has enacted laws that allow private entities to share personal data with anyone so long as the customer has not formally requested for it not to be, this is called, 'opt out'.

    The first step in correcting this is to change the 'opt out' to the 'opt in' default in all handling of data collected by private entities.

  105. To stop tracking and analysis while browsing one must use system like Tor. To avoid being tracked while shopping always use cash. Privacy is some of what you give up for convenience.

  106. OK; let me get this straight.

    He is going to open a web site and I will have to go there to learn about myself.

    (I mean, if one is denied credit, one gets the report and contests... straightforward and a different issue.)

    But the fact is that he wants me to ask him about myself.

    Truly, this is the end of the world.

  107. Yea, the next thing will be that he will charge a fee for you to learn about who you are; just like the credit firms try to do!

  108. What is a "consumer?" I think the term "citizen" is what the author really means. Think how much differently this article would read if that word were used instead. For people in general in a democracy, the proper term is "citizen." For specific people who purchase goods or services, the proper term is "customer."

  109. Once again it is apparent that any loyalty programs that offer discounts or freebies are paying for consumer information although some posters here seem unaware of that. Just like Facebook renders "free" service, that service is paid for unwittingly by consumers in the form of their personal info. Nothing is ever free - it's time for consumers to be more aware of the true price of their activities!

  110. Just imagine this type of data in the hands of a tyrannical government. What would the Stasi secret police in East Germany or the KGB in the Soviet Union have been able to do with this kind of information? They would know where you've been, where you are now (based on a purchase) and most likely where you might go in the future. To say this is creepy is a vast understatement. Everyone would be subject to possible arrest at any time.

    I have read, also, that this kind of data are being used to disqualify those at the very low end of the economy from ever getting credit. While a credit report deals only with business relationships (what you purchased with credit and your payment history), data of this type can be used to show that while someone might be entirely trustworthy and dependable, they might not be denied credit for reasons having nothing to do with payment history. It could be, according to what I have read, used to keep people at the lower end of the economy stuck right where they are.

    While credit can be a trap, it is also a vital part of what anyone needs to start their own business. Traveling these days virtually requires credit for renting a car, booking hotel rooms, etc. If you can keep people from getting basic credit, they can't then build a history that would allow for access to capital, even in modest amounts.


  111. Isn't that scenario already here...data in the hands of a tyrannical government...

  112. byeGeorge, I think you meant to type "tyrannical corporations."

  113. byeGeorge, those are the words of someone who's never actually seen a tyrannical government.

  114. ...not to mention it's making identity theft, substantially easier.

  115. Reveal "some" of the info? What good is that. I would want all the information not just what they want to let me know they have and sell about me. I dare say anything sensitive would not be revealed to the affected individual and that's what really counts.

  116. Have you bothered to put a freeze on your credit reports at the three credit agencies?

  117. This is nothing but a stunt.

  118. Gee folks... you knew you weren't getting all that stuff for free. There had to be a profit for them somewhere. Free music, videos, newspapers, and never mind all the stuff you've got going on Facebook and the like. That was the tradeoff - you gave them data they gave you stuff. And the world goes round.

  119. Gee joan......

    Perhaps you should link to the sites that provide internet consumers access to music, video, news and social contacts via direct payment ONLY. The ones that don't require us to relinquish personal information in their multi-paragraph Terms of Service.

    Oh, wait. That's right. They are conspicuous by their absence from the online realm.

    Even for paying subscribers. If there is a content provider out there that does not harvest its subscribers personal data, I have not yet encountered it.

    Given that abuse of personal info is SOP.......... the logical consumer chooses to get his news for "free". Or, rather, to get it for the price he knows he's paying anyway.

  120. I was once contacted by my insurance company asking about a teenager living in my house and whether he drove my car. I don't have children. After many phone calls I tracked down the the erroneous data to Axciom. They told me me that gather data from things like magazine subscriptions. When it comes to data the old rules still apply--garbage in, garbage out.

  121. I'm delighted that there will be more transparency. What Axciom is doing is what the NSA should be doing: revealing what it knows and why it knows it to the American people. It's ironic that it takes a private sector company to step up to the honesty plate, while tax-paid agencies like the NSA continue to prey on the taxpayers with spying and data collection.

  122. @Carolyn: While they're stepping up to the "honesty plate" maybe they'd like to reveal how & where they obtained everyone's Social Security number.

  123. I'd guess banks are one likely source of the Social Security numbers.

  124. Axciom's security for Aboutthedata.com is worthless, a sick joke, an invitation to theft.

    “Having filled out an identity verification form that asked for his name, birth date, address and the last four digits of his Social Security number, he landed on a page that gave him a choice of six data categories to examine.” This is too pathetic for words.

    It turns out that Axciom’s site has an opt-out page, https://isapps.acxiom.com/optout/optout.aspx , that says nothing about opting out of Aboutthedata.com . The Aboutthedata.com home page says nothing about opting out.


  125. I don't know about other states, but in California, it is illegal to use voter file information for any type of marketing purposes, and the process to obtain it is tightly controlled.

  126. I may be naïve, but I think this gentlemen will be providing an excellent resource. I would like to know what is known about me. If it's incorrect, I will then have the opportunity to fix it.
    Thanks, Mr. Howe!

  127. In my experience in IT, the purpose is not so sinister; they're just trying to drum up business. Use your store credit card to buy cosmetics, get a mailer next month. Or get email (that you can opt out of). The fun starts when you get mail with offers from local hotels your spouse isn't familiar with... Or is he/she? Or when credit offers arrive for the person you divorced years ago offering splendid opportunities to cash in on YOUR property. Then there are a few poor souls who have email addresses similar to mine - so I receive notes from their auto dealers, subscriptions and even their friends. I had to laugh when I received coupons in the mail for denture cleansers - I had bought a box to use to clean some narrow-necked glass vases, but the grocery chain jumped on the chance to get repeat business. This is flawed data analytics.
    But, think about it this way - when I was a child the clerk at the cash register was a fixture at the store - knew our names or at the least could associate us with our parents. And if the clerk was really good could actually help us in the store. Contrast that with what we have now and you might consider the coupons and mailers as an effort to replace that experience, albeit in a much less and, at times, seemingly a much more, personal way. What makes me angry is the misuse and poor handling and the sharing of that info with others (will my dental ins. premiums go up because I wanted sparkling vases? Woe is me!)

  128. Until the consumer is controlling the distribution of their data, most efforts at showing the consumer will fall short of actual data empowerment. Consumers lay claim to at least 50% of data value in a transaction, but they currently get very little for their data. Some in the comments chain have argued that free services are enough. I think this misses a key point, which is that the touchpoint for negotiating around one's data should not be at the time of a signup for a trojan horse service. Touchpoints for data transparency and control should be ubiquitous throughout the consumer's experience whether in a service or an app.

  129. We can get whatever the government has on us through the Freedom of Information Act, then we should certainly have free access to all of our "Preferences" data and whatever else is collected.

  130. This is simply bait to get you to login. Acxiom will claim that data on those who have logged in has been 'verified' and up the price when selling it.

  131. “You have to make things visible,” says Scott Howe. Acxiom may be saying this now, but this is a far cry from what they've said in the past. In what seems to be another outcome of the recent Snowden leaks, now private data companies — including behemoth Acxiom — are starting to reveal the data they capture about US citizens. It is the combining of NSA-style captured information (i.e. what Snowden has been talking about) with private datamarts (such as the ones managed by Acxiom) that Admiral Poindexter got into trouble for some years ago (when he tried to launch Total Information Awareness). Yes, it's not just the NSA we have to be worried about. It's the combination of the NSA data, plus what social media networks and private data companies such as Acxiom are capturing, that we need to fear.

  132. Data discovery options, such as that described in this article, are a two-edged sworn. The very process of verifying your identity provides the data company with information about you.

    The data company, in the first instance, collects data about you, often from unreliable sources and in an unreliable manner.

    That information has been transferred to the data company and aggregated by the company, without your permission or knowledge.

    There are not governmental rules governing the collection, transfer, use or accuracy of such data.

    When you accept their invitation to review your data, they collect more information about you, and, implicitly, you are stating that you have no objection to their collection and use of your data, and you are confirming that the things you do not object to or change are correct.

    As in Europe, such data collection enterprises should be able to use your data ONLY if you opt in.

    The burden of establishing an opt in and the accuracy and completeness of the data should be upon the aggregator, and not upon the individual.

    By the time the public comes to realize how entrapped we are becoming, it will be too late. The recirculated data will be incapable of retrieval or correction.

  133. They often misinterpret the data they do have. I have no idea who the person Amazon thinks I am, based on my purchases, may be. There are at least a dozen different, widely disparate, people based on the catalogues sent to me by companies that have bought specialised mailing lists. Based on the catalogues, I'm black, white, Asian, British, South African, Australian, female, male, gay, straight, Democrat, Republican, evangelical Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, atheist - like Walt Whitman, I am large, I contain multitudes. No wonder Acxion or whatever its silly corporate spelling is wants us to check the accuracy of its data. (And, funniest thing is -the ones that have accurate info apparently don't resell their lists, because I get mailings from none of their competitors, The inaccurate ones don't get any income directly from me via selling me goods, only through reselling my name.)

  134. I think each of us should own our data and have fine-grained control on how it is used. Right now, companies like Acxiom profit by selling our data. Instead, we the consumers should receive (more of) the benefits. Most consumers will be happy to sell their data on a case-by-case basis in return for case-by-case benefits (coupons, discounts, etc.). But this "sale" should be "single-use". I might be willing to sell my data with a blanket permission to share and re-use it indefinitely, but the price tag would be quite high.

    There are many technical and policy challenges in creating and enforcing a data market, so there will still be a role for data brokers like Acxiom. I would gladly share my "data income" with them in return for their assistance in providing me a single place to correct errors and services in auctioning my data in accordance with my preferences. Aboutthedata.com is a good first step!

  135. Thanks for the opt out option.

  136. "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."

    "Might discomfit"? How about "would outrage"! This is obscene, except in the eyes of Mr. Howe and his colleagues, who view it as a legitimate way to make money - but, hey, the Mafia also thinks ITS tactics are a legitimate way to make money!

    In my opinion, Mr. Howe and others in his line of work are engaged in racketeering. They have our info (gathered in whatever nefarious ways they can - how DO they get your social security number?), and we have no way to genuinely "opt out."

    And the categories: “Frugal Families” or “McMansions and Minivans” - I'd love to know the names of ALL the categories they have. "Spinsters with cats"? "Nerds with no social skills"?

    I have my own "category" for the likes of Mr. Howe and his fellow data-marketers, but I won't say what it is.

    The business of data-marketing needs to be *at least* as heavily regulated as the credit-reporting firms are - but their lobbyists will make sure that doesn't happen.

  137. The owner of data, versus the subject of data. That is the question.
    Are false, untrue public records "slander"?

  138. Data collection and data mining has been going on for at least 20 years. Once computing speed revved up and data storage prices plummeted, these businesses started to bloom. Super market discount cards, warranty cards, product registration cards dutifully filled out after the purchase of a new toaster... where do we think all this stuff has been going?

    Now we have Facebook and Google and processing speed that defies gravity. Smart phones with GPS and black boxes buried inside our cars. By the time a story like this is written for the Times, you can believe that 'segment' has matured.

    So go to the site, "OPT OUT", because you think 1) data will stop being collected about you 2) and that your 'data' actually belongs to you. Regardless, you will be wrong on both counts.

    Who you are, where you go, what you do when you get there, what you earn, spend, eat, "like" ... is all in the corporate domain. Now they want you to actually help them even more by verifying it. Some of it, anyway.

    And wasn't it a nice touch that we know he goes to church regularly. A good Methodist. Nothing scary there.

  139. If you are concerned about privacy and identity theft issues, DO place a freeze on your credit reports at the three agencies, DON'T participate in raffles and DO let the Direct Marketing Association know that you want to be removed from their junk mailing lists. If you are signing up to use a web site, don't give them your real name, real age or real address unless you are ordering a product online or are accessing your data with the company (e.g. online banking).

    Years ago, I used to get mortgage junk mail from Ameriquest almost every week. It contained bad information. Ameriquest was one of the rogue companies prior to its financial collapse early in the Great Recession. I was so happy when its founder died in his late 60's. He never would have served jail time. White collar criminals rarely do.

  140. Three years ago, I started using the services of a non-profit start-up, Catalog Choice which offered people assistance to reduce junk mail by forwarding requests to retailers to stop unwanted catalogs and mailings. Loved it -- reduce paper waste, reduce clutter, etc.

    Last year, catalogchoice was sold to TrustedID a commercial "identity protection" company.

    In July 2013, TrustedID, in turn, was sold to Equifax Personal Solutions, owned by one of the big three credit monitoring agencies.

    Weird twist. I'm not sure I'm being helped in this process. Yes, the junk mail stopped. But now details I gave Catalog Choice about my identity, location, and the long list of companies with which I have done business (or which at least have wanted to do business with me), are in the hands of this giant credit tracking company.

    This joke was on me, I guess....

  141. How does a company like Axciom know that their data is accurate?

    I think that it should be illegal for companies like Axciom to provide people's data without the person's permission. The potential for the data to be erroneous or misused is too great.


  142. A company doesn't do ANYTHING because they are nice guys. All that matters in this article is to find the reasons for their motivation...and it's clearly there.
    Two major statements:
    1."But AbouttheData.com is as much ruthlessly pragmatic as idealistic. Mr. Howe recognizes that regulation of his industry may be coming and that it’s better for Acxiom to be seen as a part of the solution than a part of the problem." Self-explanatory; self-preservation, dressed up so cleverly as "honesty."
    2. " “I don’t have a loan on my house anymore. It’s drawing on old data,” Mr. Howe explained. “That’s one I would absolutely go in and change.” " Hint, hint: If you see some data that are wrong, do be a dear and fix it for us, would you? We'd love to have more reliable data, and say, how about if you do the work for us?

    But really, it's just about "honesty" and "openness," he says. Isn't that wonderful? These guys are the nicest privacy invaders we have.

  143. Yes, he has a lot of data, but the data is woefully inaccurate and/or stale. The number of dupes and misspellings would be significant.

  144. I understand that any corporation's primary objective is to make money; unless of course it is a non-profit corporation. That objective, sadly, is quite often in conflict with morality, fairness, or justice.