Is The Data Broker Industry Really Ready For A Sea Change?

Fatemeh Khatibloo

Yesterday, FTC Commissioner Julie Brill published an essay on AdAge.com that calls on data brokers to join -- or, rather, establish -- an initiative called "Reclaim Your Name." The goal of the program would be to provide a single portal where consumers could see what data the industry has collected about them, provide options to opt in and out, and to correct data that might be inaccurate.

While the commissioner's article is a bit heavy on the "big data" rhetoric, her point is well taken: We have entered an era where the volume of data that individuals make available about themselves -- often inadvertently -- is increasing daily. Unfortunately, guidelines for how marketers and the larger data industry collect and use personal data are in short supply. This conflict is one of the major challenges that our industry faces in the coming decade: How can brands excel in the age of the customer if they're constantly under scrutiny about their privacy and data practices?

Acxiom, one of the world's largest data brokers, recently launched its own version of the kind of portal Commissioner Brill calls for. AboutTheData.com lets individuals see a subset of the data Acxiom knows about them, provides correction and opt-out opportunities, and aims to provide consumers with education about the data industry as a whole.

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Acxiom's Untied Kimono

Fatemeh Khatibloo

Yesterday, Acxiom, one of the world's largest data brokers and a key player in the marketing services ecosystem, launched an important new consumer service (still in Beta) called "About The Data."  It's an initiative to show consumers some of the data that Acxiom has compiled about them, to provide education around how certain types of data are sourced and used, and to let users correct and/or suppress the use of these datapoints for marketing purposes. 

This is a big deal. Why? Because it's pushing Acxiom (and, frankly, the entire third-party data industry) way out of its comfort zone on a few levels.

  1. First, this is not a company that is used to dealing with consumers on a mass scale. Acxiom's DNA is fundamentally B2B; learning how to communicate to, and design tools for, individual consumers is a massive undertaking, and it shows in the UI. For example, when I attempted to register my address with a "#" preceding my apartment number, the format was rejected without any indication that symbols were disallowed in that field. As a tech-savant, it only took me one more attempt to figure that out, but not all consumers are so savvy. Similarly, clicking the "Home" button on the navigation bar logs users out without any notice or warning. 
     
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