I Checked My ‘Secret’ Marketing Profile Online: Here’s What I Found

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A major player in the consumer data collection business is letting people see some of what the company thinks it knows about their personal and financial lives.

You may have heard about the new website that lets you see what a major marketing data firm has compiled about you – or at least some of the information they’ve gleaned.

Intrigued, I went to AboutTheData.com to see what the folks at Acxiom think they know about me. Did they get it right?

First, more about the company. The New York Times explains:

With about $1.1 billion in revenue in its 2013 fiscal year, Acxiom is a leading player in an industry called data brokerage. The company collects, stores, analyzes and sells consumer data with the aim of helping its clients — including well-known banks, credit card issuers, insurance companies, department stores and carmakers — tailor marketing to their most valuable current customers or identify new customers.

Where does this data come from? Acxiom says:

Marketing data about you is collected two ways: data collected offline and data collected online. Offline marketing data comes from publicly available information such as your name, address, birthdate and census data, information from surveys and questionnaires or product registrations/warranties, and information from other data providers. Online data often comes from cookies placed on your Internet browser that return information about your online visit to the websites of companies you are shopping with.

Acxiom collects a lot of information itself and obtains more from other sources. And now it’s letting people see some of what’s on file. (Some are suggesting the company is trying to head off government regulation by providing more transparency.)

Did they get it right?

Getting access was easy, although you have to provide your date of birth and the last four digits of your Social Security number so the site can verify your identity. Then you can click to look at various categories of data acquired or extrapolated about you. The site warns that not everything you see will be right. Here’s what I found:

  • Characteristic data. This is information like your sex and marital status. Among other things, the site correctly said I completed graduate school, that I’m single and that I work from home. It did not get my date of birth right, which is fine with me.
  • Home data. This would include information about whether I own or rent and how long I’ve lived at my current address. They have zero information about my home history.
  • Household vehicle data. They got the year and model of my old car right. But they incorrectly think I also own a truck or RV.
  • Household economic data. Here’s where the data diverge wildly from reality. According to it, my income is much, much lower than it really is. It also attributed credit cards to me I don’t have.
  • Household purchase data. This describes in general terms both online and offline purchases at selected retailers. Without knowing which retailers those are, I can’t tell if all of the information about my spending — money spent, how many times I’ve shopped — is correct or not. It did accurately identify some of the types of things I’ve bought. However, I don’t recall buying “golf products.”
  • Household interests data. Wow. This section is really long and identifies just about everything I’m interested in, including what types of causes I’ve donated to. Yes, I’m interested in cooking and gardening, etc., and I have traveled in Canada and in other countries. Only a few of the items were incorrect. For instance, I have no interest in playing golf. (Golf again?) And I have no interest in casino gambling or casino vacations. That probably comes from the Las Vegas trip I took several years ago for a wedding.

How did my experience compare with that of others? The company says 30 percent of the information may be wrong, a CNNMoney writer wrote, adding:

In an informal survey of 10 people at CNNMoney, including myself, everyone reported at least one major inaccuracy in their profile. Most people reported multiple errors, and several people said many of the major personal, economic and other characteristics listed for them were wrong. A few people said their profiles were mostly on target.

Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson reported similar results. Stacy, whose first name is shared by both women and men, is a male — but that would be news to Acxiom. It also had his profession wrong, as well as his income and how long he’s owned his house. They didn’t know he was married and, like me, thought he owned a truck or RV.

Acxiom does give you the ability to edit your information in each category, but I’m not inclined to help them tailor even more ads specifically to me.

You can also opt out of letting them collect info about you. But that seems like a waste of time too. The website says:

Opting out of Acxiom’s online and/or offline marketing data will not prevent you from receiving marketing materials. Instead of receiving ads that are relevant to your interests, you will see more generic ads with no information to tailor content. For example, instead of getting a great offer on a hotel package in your favorite vacation spot, you might see an ad for the latest, greatest weight loss solution.

Have you checked on your data? Was it accurate, and did you opt out? And does all of this data collection creep you out? Let us know on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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