This week the New York Times published a fascinating article about the little-known company, the Acxiom Corporation, who experts believe have amassed the world’s largest commercial database on consumers.
Based in Conway, Arkansas – just north of Little Rock, Acxiom busily collect more than 50 trillion data transactions a year. It has been said that their databases contains information of approximately 500 million active consumers from around the world!
Though Acxiom’s data-mining raises serious concerns amongst privacy campaigners, the company’s methods are completely legal and seem to be paying off as they made a staggering profit of more than $77 million in the last financial year.
They collect all sorts of personal data; where you eat, what your hobbies are, if you have any medical conditions, what sports you like and then sell this information off to companies who want to market their products to you. Most of the time, consumers are completely unaware that this kind of information is being collected by anyone, let alone that it will then be used to attempt to sell them something!
Some federal authorities believe that the current laws about data-mining are outdated and ill-equipped to deal with a rapidly growing industry that’s main aim is to collect as much information about the individual as possible. There are serious concerns over the types of information that is collected and what it is then used for, like for example health conditions, race and ethnicity. Campaigners are worried that this will lead to racial profiling and stereotyping.
Federal Trade Commission member Julie Brill says that data brokers like Acxiom should be made to tell the public about the data they are collecting. She said that people should be made aware of their methods of collection, who it is sold to and how it will be used. However it is unlikely she will get her wish.
Privacy campaigners have major concerns about the company’s ranking system, which uses the information garnered about an individual to rank them as high-value or low-value…In industry jargon, the low-value consumers are referred to as ‘waste’ –a slightly disturbing term to say the least! I’m guessing flexible income has a lot to do with how an individual is ranked by the company, but it is probably a bit more complicated than that.
Campaigners have argued that whilst it might seem harmless if a ‘low-value’ consumer is not targeted to buy a luxury vehicle that they haven’t a hope in hell of being able to afford, if this kind of alienation marketing occurs with things like educational courses and training – then it can have a detrimental impact on society.
Acxiom argue that they are a data-refinery, rather than a data-broker, collating the information effectively so that the products you desire can be brought to you – including perks like discounts, special offers and money-off deals. However the New York Times said: “there is a fine line between customization and stalking. While many people welcome the convenience of personalized offers, others may see the surveillance engines behind them as intrusive or even manipulative.”
Acxiom represent a new age of digital profiling – but the public have mixed feelings about whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. Do you think we need stricter controls and regulations on database marketers like Acxiom or do you feel that it is a good way for you to hear about the offers that interest you?
Personally, I’m not too comfortable about some massive company holding all my personal details in their massive database, it is a little bit too Big Brother for my liking! What do you think? Leave a comment and let us know…
You for Sale: Mapping, and Sharing, the Consumer Genome (Via New York Times)