Do companies like Acxiom keep you up at night?

June 20th, 2012 by Mimi Yin

IT knows who you are. It knows where you live. It knows what you do.

It peers deeper into American life than the F.B.I. or the I.R.S., or those prying digital eyes at Facebook and Google. If you are an American adult, 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.

Creepy? The author of this article certainly seems to be trying to make it sound creepy. What isn’t mentioned is that as an unregulated 3rd party data broker, Acxiom can cross-reference the data they buy from various sources to create a Frankenstein profile of each of us…the very kind of thing Google and Microsoft aren’t allowed to do.

Why is this interesting?

Crunching data to build up demographic and psychological profiles of people (as consumers) is probably inevitable. (A pretty safe bet given that it’s already happening.) And we believe that used in the right way, the ability to create these “comprehensive” profiles could be a net positive for all of us.

What isn’t inevitable is the lack of regulation around transparency and disclosure. We do it with food. We could do it with advertising and marketing offers.

(Plus we know that people tend to do the right thing if they know they’re being watched. And fortunately, corporations are people too.)

This ad was brought to you by your recent purchase of anti-fungal cream.

This phone call from your credit card company was brought to you because based on your purchases, we think you’re more susceptible to feeling guilty about not paying your bills.

Doesn’t sound realistic does it?

Maybe just a subtle, yet ubiquitous reminder that nothing is mere serendipity in the world of commerce would work better:

*Based on your profile.

(People still smoke, but no one can pretend ignorance of the health risks.)

It’s too early to know what companies should or shouldn’t be allowed to do with data, but what is clear is that we should at least be aware that they’re doing it! (Whatever it is they’re doing.)

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