Hoping to keep regulators at bay, Acxiom, one of the world's largest data brokers, today launched a portal that shows consumers the data that the company has on them and lets them make changes or opt out.
Consumers that enter aboutthedata.com, can check out broad categories of data that Acxiom has collected about them from both offline and online sources, including shopping habits and dollars spent, household interests (like music listener or cooking), Internet connection, education and political party affiliation. Changes can be made any time, or consumers can choose to opt out completely.
If consumers opt-out, Acxiom warns them that they will still get ads, just not ads that may be relevant to their interests.
The move is a first in the industry, which has been under increasing pressure in Washington to give consumers more control over data collected about them that is used for marketing. Several lawmakers and the Federal Trade Commission have opened up investigations into data broker practices. The FTC's report should be out at the end of the year.
"Commercial data brokers ... know much more about us than we do about them," wrote FTC commissioner Julie Brill in a recent Washington Post op ed. Acxiom, Brill noted, has information on about 700 million consumers worldwide, with some 1,500 data points per person.
Brill has practically made it her personal mission to advocate for a centralized Web-based industry portal that will allow consumers, as she puts it, to "reclaim your name."
Now, if Acxiom's portal is to be believed, consumers can have control over that data, if they choose.
"After 40+ years of advocating for the responsible use of consumer data, we're now taking our first step in establishing a direct relationship with consumers and plan to grow the site and its capabilities over time," Acxiom CEO Scott Howe said in a statement.
"[Acxiom's consumer portal] will help consumers understand and demystify what data brokers are all about," said Rachel Thomas, vp of government affairs for the Direct Marketing Association, whose lobbyists have spent the last year trying to demystify the business for lawmakers and regulators that have opened up probes into data broker practices.
Brill hopes the rest of the industry will follow suit.
Acxiom's portal, Brill told Adweek, "is a first step down this important road toward greater transparency. The company's CEO, Scott Howe, recognizes there will be room for improvement and has invited feedback on the new portal. I look forward to discussing the Aboutthedata portal with Acxiom executives in the very near future."
But, warned Thomas, it would be a mistake for the industry to adopt the one-size-fits-all website that commissioner Brill has called for. "Acxiom's portal was tailored to their business," she said. "A one-size-fits-all would confuse consumers."