Data Marketing Critics Check Out What's Written About Them

Companies that collect and sell information about you are usually pretty secretive. But one of the biggest is now allowing consumers to look themselves up. Acxiom Corporation has set up the website: AboutTheData.com.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Companies that collect and sell information about you are usually pretty secretive about what they have on you. But one of the biggest data brokers is now letting consumers have a peek.

Yesterday, the Acxiom Corp. set up a website where people can look themselves up. It's called AboutTheData.com. As NPR's Martin Kaste reports, some of the first people to try it were the data industry's critics.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Ashkan Soltani is privacy researcher. He says so far, he's just been poking at the website. He doesn't like the fact that logging in all the way requires personal information, like his date of birth.

ASHKAN SOLTANI: After that, it's pretty much along the lines of, you know, helping them verify your information.

KASTE: But if you don't log in, you give up the chance to correct their mistakes. And they do make mistakes. Stanford graduate student Jonathan Mayer has been a prominent voice for limits on big data, and he was quick to log in to see what Acxiom had to say about him.

JONATHAN MAYER: If I read the page correctly, Acxiom believes I have three children, own my sister's since-sold car, made just 14 purchases in the past two years; and I'm Christian. and I'm into motorcycling.

KASTE: None of which is true. But Mayer doesn't take comfort in the inaccuracies. He says Acxiom shows you the educated guesses that it's making about you - guesses that are sometimes wrong. But he says what the site is not showing you is the wealth of hard data that those guesses are based on. Mayer calls the website privacy theater. He says it's meant to improve the company's image, and deflect possible government regulation.

Acxiom didn't return calls from NPR. But CEO Scott Howe told The New York Times that the company does favor heightened industry regulation, but that it wants to keep, quote, "a voice in the process."

Martin Kaste, NPR News.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: