Consumer data broker Acxiom plans to introduce a service that will reveal to people what it knows about them, according to a Financial Times report.
The company, which is based in Little Rock, Arkansas in the U.S., bills itself as an enterprise data, analytics and software-as-a-service company. It serves 47 of the Fortune 100 companies, more than 7,000 in all, and counts more than a trillion data transactions each week from 700 million consumers worldwide.
Even though the company probably has a file on you, that data has never before been available to you. The FT's Emily Steel reports that, in the interest of transparency -- and quite possibly spurred by a U.S. Federal Trade Commission investigation launched in December -- the company will open its database.
It's a big deal. This kind of data impacts financial instruments (credit card offers, for example), marketing materials (just got married? Acxiom knows about it, and they've told the appropriate vendors), and even political votes (informing politicians where they may have the most sway).
For years, the industry has operated behind a veil of secrecy and released few details about the exact information it tracked and how those details were used. Consumer privacy advocates long have demanded that data brokers such as Acxiom, Experian and Datalogix allow individuals to see what information is collected, correct those details and delete their profiles. No current laws in the US require that data brokers maintain the privacy of individual's data unless they are used for credit, employment, insurance, housing or other similar purposes.
Today, people can opt out of targeted ads based on Axciom data but have no way to know what data that is.
The U.S. FTC said in a March 2012 report:
To address the invisibility of, and consumers' lack of control over, data brokers' collection and use of consumer information, the Commission supports targeted legislation - similar to that contained in several of the data security bills introduced in the 112th Congress - that would provide consumers with access to information about them held by a data broker. To further increase transparency, the Commission calls on data brokers that compile data for marketing purposes to explore creating a centralized website where data brokers could (1) identify themselves to consumers and describe how they collect and use consumer data and (2) detail the access rights and other choices they provide with respect to the consumer data they maintain.
Acxiom's move is in line with this recommendation.
The company's key hurdle in introducing its new service? Security, in both preventing information from falling in the wrong (that is, unauthorized) hands and preventing undue tampering by the subjects themselves (perfect credit score, indeed). It also needs to present that information in a more useful way that a spreadsheet dump, as it does for the companies it serves.
Nonetheless, today's news is a big step. In this data-saturated age, there's still a long way to go.