Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

AboutTheData.com Asks If You Recognize Your Online Self

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

AboutTheData.com Asks If You Recognize Your Online Self

Article excerpt

For years now, "data brokers" have built billion-dollar businesses around collecting and selling information about you. They use public records, magazine subscriptions, online purchases, and surveys to construct individualized profiles on millions of Americans.

Now, one of these companies, Acxiom, will let you take a peek behind the curtain. Its website, AboutTheData.com, allows people to see what information Acxiom has collected and, if necessary, to correct the record.

"AboutTheData.com is the first step of a journey that will allow consumers more visibility and control into data about them," says Jennifer Barrett Glasgow, Acxiom's chief privacy officer, in an e- mail. "This is the first time any [data broker] has attempted this level of granularity at this scale."

Acxiom introduced the website just as the data-mining industry is reaching a crossroads. Thanks to online tracking, marketing firms can now gather information about individual consumers with unprecedented volume and accuracy, raising questions among legislators about whether these massive databases of biographical information should be more transparent.

Before you can log into AboutTheData.com, the site asks for your name, address, birthday, e-mail address, and the last four digits of your Social Security number. If it finds a match, Acxiom pulls up pages of data points: political leanings, race, number of children, household income, vehicle ownership, personal interests, and whether you use text messaging.

Many of these entries are simple guesses. Acxiom collects far more data than it can confirm. But by cross-referencing public records, warranty registrations, and retail history, the company can conclude with reasonable confidence whether someone rents or owns a home. Deciding whether an individual likes golf, however, takes a lot more conjecture. …

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