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    New York Times: Consumer Data, but Not for Consumers

    We’re discussed before how there is an industry of gathering data on individuals (there are data brokers such as Acxiom and Choicepoint, along with individual companies’ tracking individuals’ online and offline behavior) and how personal data that is posted online can be used to created detailed profiles of individuals for things such as targeted behavioral advertising. In a new report, the New York Times takes a look at one data broker — Acxiom — and how one reporter, Natasha Singer, tried to access the data the company held about her:

    I recently asked to see the information held about me by the Acxiom Corporation, a database marketing company that collects and sells details about consumers’ financial status, shopping and recreational activities to banks, retailers, automakers and other businesses. In investor presentations and interviews, Acxiom executives have said that the company — the subject of a Sunday Business article last month — has information on about 500 million active consumers worldwide, with about 1,500 data points per person. Acxiom also promotes a program for consumers who wish to see the information the company has on them. […]

    Acxiom also has a proprietary household classification system that places people in one of 70 socioeconomic categories, like “Downtown Dwellers” or “Flush Families,” and I hoped to discover the caste to which it had assigned me.

    But after I filled out an online request form and sent a personal check for $5 to cover the processing fee, the company simply sent me a list of some of my previous residential addresses. In other words, rather than learning the details about myself that marketers might use to profile and judge me, I received information I knew already.

    It turns out that Acxiom, based in Little Rock, Ark., furnishes consumers only with data related to risk management, like their own prison records, tax liens, bankruptcy filings and residential histories. For a corporate client, the company is able to match customers by name with, say, the social networks or Internet providers they use, but it does not offer consumers the same information about themselves.

    Jennifer Barrett Glasgow, Acxiom’s chief privacy officer, said that the company kept consumer data in different databases and that its system was not designed to assemble all the information it had amassed on a single person. […]

    Data brokers like Acxiom have developed advanced techniques to collect and collate information about consumers’ offline, online and mobile behavior. But they have been slow to develop innovative ways for consumers to gain access to the information that companies obtain, share and sell about them for marketing purposes.

    Now federal regulators are pressuring data brokers to operate more transparently. In a report earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission recommended that the industry set up a public Web portal that would display the names and contact information of data brokers, as well as describe consumers’ data access rights and other choices.

    Read the full article to learn more about Acxiom and other data brokers’ practices and policies concerning consumers, privacy and access.

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