Your personal privacy is always a top concern, however, with the digital age comes new threats to your personal information as is it more accessible than ever. The largest aggregator of peoples personal information isn’t Google, but actually an unknown company called the Acxiom Corporation. The Week reveals what this company does and the threat it poses to your privacy:
What is Acxiom Corp., and what does it do?
The company fits into a category called database marketing. It started in 1969 as an outfit called Demographics Inc., using phone books and other notably low-tech tools, as well as one computer, to amass information on voters and consumers for direct marketing. Almost 40 years later, Acxiom has detailed entries for more than 190 million people and 126 million households in the U.S., and about 500 million active consumers worldwide. More than 23,000 servers in Conway, just north of Little Rock, collect and analyze more than 50 trillion data ‘transactions’ a year. “In essence, it’s as if the ore of our data-driven lives were being mined, refined, and sold to the highest bidder, usually without our knowledge,” says The Times‘ Singer.
What kind of data does it have?
“If you are an American adult,” says Singer, “the odds are that it knows things like your age, race, sex, weight, height, marital status, education level, politics, buying habits, household health worries, vacation dreams — and on and on.” It does more than collect that information, though. It uses it to pigeonhole people into one of 70 very specific socioeconomic clusters in an attempt to predict how they’ll act, what they’ll buy, and how companies can persuade them to buy their products. It gathers its data trove from public records, surveys you’ve filled out, your online behavior, and other disparate sources of information, then sells it to banks, retailers, and other buyers.
Do other companies do this, too?
Yes, it’s a very competitive and lucrative business — Acxiom reported a $77.26 million profit last fiscal year, and it’s the No. 2 company in the business, after Epsilon. But analysts say that Acxiom has the world’s largest database on consumers. “There are a lot of players in the digital space trying the same thing,” Piper Jaffray analyst Mark Zgutowicz tells The New York Times. “But Acxiom’s advantage is they have a database of offline information that they have been collecting for 40 years and can leverage that expertise in the digital world.”
Is this legal?
Yes, but the Federal Trade Commission is asking Congress to step in to make the data-marketing industry more transparent. Unlike consumer reporting agencies that compile and sell your credit score, date-miners like Acxiom don’t have to tell individuals what they know about them. Privacy and consumer advocates say that’s troubling, since the companies are selling sensitive, potentially embarrassing, and possibly false information about you, and you can’t correct errors. As FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz says, Acxiom and its peers are “the unseen cyberazzi who collect information on all of us,” and we should have the right to know what they’ve found.