Amid some fanfare, consumer data powerhouse Acxiom just launched AboutTheData.com, a service that lets consumers look at the data the company collects about them. The company’s official rationale, as spelled out on its website and reiterated in a Sunday New York Times article, is to be more transparent in response to the public’s growing concerns about the personal data that companies and the government collect about them. But the cynic in me wonders whether AboutTheData isn’t so much about transparency as crowdsourcing. Because the service lets individuals edit Acxiom’s information about them, maybe what Acxiom really wants is for all of us to serve as editors and improve the completeness and accuracy of its database.
I used AboutTheData to look at Acxiom’s data about me and my wife. I was surprised that much data was either missing or inaccurate, given the fact that we are middle-aged folks who have left a trail of publicly-available information throughout our adult lives. For example, Acxiom’s records say that we are each single. (We’ve been married for over 30 years.) Acxiom has no information on our homeownership status, even though we have owned five homes over the course of 30 years, including our current residence for more than 10 years. Acxiom’s individual and household income data was relatively accurate for my wife, but completely off the mark for me. Acxiom doesn’t know my political party (I’ve been a registered Democrat for over 30 years and vote in every election), but does know my wife’s party affiliation. Acxiom doesn’t know that I own a car (I’ve owned my current car for 10 years), though it does know that my wife has an automobile insurance policy. Acxiom believes that my wife’s ethnicity is French. (At best, she’s a nice Jewish Francophile.) Among her household interests, Acxiom lists cooking, home decorating, reading (all relatively true), but also lists computers, sports memorabilia, and reading magazines (none of which is true). My interests, according to Acxiom, include boating, sailing, and boat ownership. (I have never have been interested in any of these activities and get sea sick very easily.) Acxiom lists home furnishing, hunting, and shooting as other interests, none of which are interests in the least. It also lists me as a “mail order responder.” (I do shop online frequently, but almost never in response to a catalog. In fact, I’ve made it a personal crusade to remove our household from the mailing list of any catalog that arrives in the mail.) According to Acxiom, I am interested in magazine reading. (I subscribe to almost no magazines.) Pretty much the only information that Acxiom has gotten right, other than my name, address, and birthday, is that I am interested in cooking (true) and own a cell phone. (Who doesn’t?)
I am interested in other people’s experiences with AboutTheData.com. Check out your own data on the site and let me know how complete and accurate it is.