Having written extensively in the past about the need for companies to grant data autonomy to their customers, giving them the ability to access, alter, and suppress their consumer profile data, I’m keenly interested in Acxiom’s upcoming launch of AbouttheData.com. The fact that Acxiom, which has long ranked as one of the biggest collectors of consumer data, now appears to be embracing some of the basic tenets of “openness” and “transparency” would seem akin to Clarence Thomas suddenly shifting his allegiance to the liberal side of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The data brokerage industry has always operated with an air of secrecy about it. Despite the efforts of privacy advocates, it has kept consumers mostly in the dark when it comes to letting them know what specific pieces of information about them are being compiled, analyzed and sold to marketers.
Certainly, consumers have never before had the opportunity to review the details of the geo-demographic, psychographic and transaction data that comprise their personal profiles, let alone suppress or correct individual data fields. Acxiom is treading into new waters with AbouttheData.com, which, reportedly, will allow consumers to also view the sources behind the vast volumes of information about them.
Allowing consumers to tweak their profile information with, say, their recent purchases, leisure activities and household interests may improve overall data accuracy, benefiting both them and marketers in terms of relevant messages and offers. Indeed, everyone stands to gain when data is used effectively to personalize marketing communications.
At the same time, what is to prevent consumers from fictionalizing parts of their profile information? Most surprising is the fact that, according to reports, consumers will be able to remove their names and profile information entirely from the marketing database. This opt-out provision would seem to pose a significant risk for Acxiom, given that their bread and butter depends on keeping consumer names in the system.
All of which begs the question: What would compel Acxiom to suddenly bring data sharing and transparency to an age-old industry practice that disdains data sharing and transparency? One can bet that it has nothing to do with an awakening of moral consciousness regarding some of the arguments made by consumer privacy zealots.
Instead, it seems clear that legislators and regulators are turning up the heat on information resellers, with members of Congress pushing to enact regulation that would eventually force data brokers like Acxiom to disclose the information they collect on consumers, anyway. For its part, Acxiom may be simply making a preemptive move that will allow it to win favorable PR while also wielding greater influence in future regulatory developments. In the end, it may be a very smart move.