Twice now the New York Times has reported on a mysterious company in Arkansas, Acxiom, that has been collecting endless data on all of us but no one is entirely sure what they have or why they have it. This is why neither NYT story makes perfect sense. Something is wrong but we do not know enough about what they are doing to know what it is. Consumers do not get to see their files according to the second article. I cannot write and get what they have on me, nor can you.
The collected data include our incomes, our family compositions, and certainly our geographic locations. The process for mining begins when a store clerk asks us at check-out for our zip codes, or perhaps when we search internet sites and input data there. From there the sources somehow back into our e-mail and home addresses, our incomes, our buying preferences, our kids’ ages, our pets, and I am not sure what all else.
One quote from the article gives you a feel for what is being sought:
"Companies can buy data to pinpoint households that are concerned, say, about allergies, diabetes or “senior needs.” Also for sale is information on sizes of home loans and household incomes. Clients generally buy this data because they want to hold on to their best customers or find new ones — or both. A bank that wants to sell its best customers additional services, for example, might buy details about those customers’ social media, Web and mobile habits to identify more efficient ways to market to them. Or, says Mr. Frankland at Forrester, a sporting goods chain whose best customers are 25- to 34-year-old men living near mountains or beaches could buy a list of a million other people with the same characteristics. The retailer could hire Acxiom, he says, to manage a campaign aimed at that new group, testing how factors like consumers’ locations or sports preferences affect responses."
"But the catalog also offers delicate information that has set off alarm bells among some privacy advocates, who worry about the potential for misuse by third parties that could take aim at vulnerable groups. Such information includes consumers’ interests — derived, the catalog says, “from actual purchases and self-reported surveys” — like “Christian families,” “Dieting/Weight Loss,” “Gaming-Casino,” “Money Seekers” and “Smoking/Tobacco.” Acxiom also sells data about an individual’s race, ethnicity and country of origin. “Our Race model,” the catalog says, “provides information on the major racial category: Caucasians, Hispanics, African-Americans, or Asians.” Competing companies sell similar data."
The point is not to promote identity theft but to provide individuals with special deals that they (based upon the aforementioned data) will appreciate. What do you all think? Nice gesture or cause for concern? If you market experts could share with us, we’d be grateful.