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How Well Does Data Know You?

What the Ad Age Staff Learned About Themselves From Acxiom's AboutTheData.com

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The pitch was intriguing: Peek behind the curtain and see what one of the world's data giants knows about you.

The result was underwhelming. According to Acxiom's AboutTheData.com, I am a college-educated professional (true), who's single, lives just above the poverty line and has an auto-insurance renewal due in October (all false -- I don't even own a car, though now I know why I've been getting all those State Farm auto-insurance postcards).

Other Ad Age staffers tried it out, too. The site pegged one reporter, age 25, as being 66 to 67; another was classified a student, despite this being her third professional job. A third was cited as interested in Canadian vacations -- she's booked to fly to Toronto next week -- but AboutTheData had no auto or home information for her, even though she's owned the same co-op for nine years. Perhaps the worst was the editor whom it recognized only by her maiden name, despite the fact her married name has been her legal one for five years. It also said she was 60, Hispanic and Republican, which were all off-base.

Acxiom intends for the site to help consumers understand what the company knows about them, but some staffers felt it was more of a fishing expedition to get them to correct incomplete or erroneous data than an effort at disclosure.

Acxiom makes no bones about using AboutTheData to improve the accuracy of its data: "Our principle for the design was to show people all of our core data and allow them control over it, precisely to detect and correct inaccuracies," it said via email. The company said that there is some level of acceptable variance in data accuracy at any given point in time, but that aggregated across a big-data set the information is useful.

So how will the site make people feel about big data? From a privacy perspective, I'm glad I'm still a bit of an enigma. But as an editor who covers marketing, it's a little disconcerting to see these off-base assumptions. Imagine how a CMO might feel looking at AboutTheData.com. Besides, before you get all bearish on big data, keep in mind the richer, more nuanced views of you come from data you're not seeing on AboutTheData: first-party information that drugstores or grocers or e-commerce giants have, which is why so many of those marketers are investing in their own databases, often turning to companies like Acxiom to help manage them.

So, Walgreens -- when might you open your kimono?

Want to know more about marketing using big data? Purchase this Advertising Age Research Report here.

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