Big Data and You – Transparency or Fishing?

Last week, digital data broker Acxiom launched a new service called AbouttheData.com – it is supposed to show you what data is collected about you so you know what marketers see and how you are targeted, and it provides you an opportunity to ‘correct’ your data if any of it is incorrect – ostensibly so you will be targeted with advertising that is more of interest to you than that which is not. In their parlance “Make Data Work for You”.

When I learned of this service, I thought I might check it out to see how I’m profiled. That was until I started looking at the information I would have to give to them just to see what they have on me. Like my full date of birth (to the year), my physical address, my email address, and the last 4 digits of my social. There were red flags all over this which tempered my curiosity. I did not fill in their form, and their records on me remain a mystery.

From what I have read about people who did participate, including a friend of mine’s personal experience, considerable amounts of Acxiom’s data are inaccurate. So how many consumers will be inclined to update their records with correct information – essentially becoming Acxiom’s free and outsourced labor force, providing the cleanest data possible at virtually no cost to them? Such information is worth a fortune in the marketing world. The value proposition is  dubious and the revenue model is sneaky. Digitally savvy consumers may see through this, but there may be many people who won’t.

Perhaps most troubling to me is the ‘get over it’ undertone – they state clearly that your data is and will continually be collected and compiled, that you will be marketed to based on it, and that you have no choice in the matter: One excerpt: “Opting out of Acxiom’s online and/or offline marketing data will not prevent you from receiving marketing materials. Instead of receiving ads that are relevant to your interests, you will see more generic ads with no information to tailor content.” So, their pitch goes, isn’t it better to just give us the accurate information and get marketing messages of relevance to you?

There is something brazenly audacious about this to me, a threshold being crossed. The Acxiom site, with their soft colors and friendly font and cute avatars, looks so innocuous.  But in the digital fishbowl, we are giving away our personal information in volumes – so is it just better to know? Maybe some of us would rather give accurate information in hopes of stopping the flood of off-the-mark spam. Opt in or opt out? That will be captured as well, and the implications of either choice will surely further influence what shows up in your mailbox.

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