Finding Your Name in Big Data with Acxiom

Ideas and Issues

placeholder-newNew Orleans   There haven’t been too many new buildings constructed in Little Rock in the years since I lived there.  Sure there’s the Clinton Library, but the only sort of tall one near the interstate downtown bears the name Acxiom, making me curious about what in the world they do there.   It turns out that when we read about “big data” everywhere these days, Acxiom is right at the heart of both collecting that data on virtually everything breathing with two legs and gathering and selling the information to marketers.  Seeing their name in the headlines recently caught my attention.   Finally I would figure this out.   It seems within the secretive industry of data collection, Acxiom, was doing something surprising.  They were going transparent.  At least sort of.

            You can try this at home as I did by clicking on their “see all” website at   Once you are there, you have to register as a “new user” which is straightforward and then by clicking on the various categories, you can see the basics of what they have collected on you from the number of your children to whether you own a home, what kind of vehicle, and what you like to buy, and basically what you like period.    Acxiom is sly like a fox with this experience in transparency, because they allow you to correct errors, which actually has you working for them for free, since your profile will now be more valuable for them to sell you stuff and make more with their business model.  There is a button that allows you to determine whether or not they can use the corrections for marketing.   There is also a button that allows you to “opt out” of the system, though so much of what they have is curated public information that frankly, I’m not sure that’s worth the bother except as a protest of sorts.

            You probably want to know if the information is accurate.  Well, not so much really.  Sure, when the information comes from public data like the kinds of vehicles you own, it’s spot on.   They also know the number of children you have and stuff like that which is also available more publicly than you might want to imagine.  I was surprised to find that they were clueless about my housing though.  Frequently, on credit card correction queries when they have to verify your identity it’s eerie when the person over the phone asks you to confirm whether you drive a certain model truck and whether you own property at the following addresses.   For some reason Acxiom is not up to snuff on that though of course property ownership is increasingly on-line.  Their bread and butter is marketing though, so the list of things that they believe are your preferences is exhausting and in my case mostly right with an important caveat.   They obviously collect data from credit card purchases so if you have children or others who use credit cards in your name all of your preferences are jumbled up with them, although I’m not sure who in my wide crew is involved in collecting antiques.

            Honestly I have to admit I was comforted at how ignorant “big data” really was at least in this first taste.  Clearly, the fact that my legal first name is not the name I use in business and the world still confuses the computers, and I’m glad of it.  Certainly, if you buy stuff in cash, you are under the radar. 

            Still now that we know that everyone is watching us all the time and inputting it in computers somewhere, the lesson here is that if we’re going to live in this world, we probably should check and make sure they get it right or mess with them as best we can.  Your choice!