ICYMI: Data Brokers Get Slammed by '60 Minutes'

Show Thrusts Marketing Data Industry Into Mainstream American Spotlight

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The marketing-data industry got a swift kick in the gut from mainstream news outlet "60 Minutes" last night. The CBS magazine show called the data broker industry "a much greater and more immediate threat to your privacy" than "government snooping and bulk collection and storage of vast amounts of data." And, continued reporter Steve Kroft, corporate data collection is "coming from thousands of companies you never heard of."

Many in the data industry last week steeled themselves for a show they expected to paint their practices in a negative light. The Direct Marketing Association contacted Advertising Age last Wednesday suggesting the segment would probably air during the March 9 broadcast, noting the nearly-100-year-old trade group would have comments regarding the show after it ran.

"We spent several phone conversations with [60 Minutes] on background explaining what marketers do," said DMA President-CEO Linda Woolley, who said she made a point of watching the show last night. The organization was mentioned briefly during the segment.

"We put out a note to all of our members" about the show, she added. The DMA will be 100 years old in 2017.

"It's national TV. Anything that's happening on national TV [regarding the marketing data industry] we pay attention to," she said.

Large traditional data firms Acxiom and Epsilon were named specifically in the piece, as were much younger digital data companies Lotame, an audience targeting firm, and Spokeo, a white pages-esque people-search company. The requisite footage of a server farm -- the physical machines that store consumer data -- also made its way into the final cut.

Several aspects of consumer data collection and use were mentioned by "60 Minutes," including personally-identifiable information gathering, profile building through data matching from a variety of sources, geo-location data harvested through mobile devices, and online behavioral data.

"Absolutely no one talked about a harm that resulted from data collection and use," said Ms. Woolley.

Representing the data industry was Epsilon CEO Bryan Kennedy, who suggested the federal government's attempts to legislate data broker practices are misguided. Government should "not attempt to regulate the entire industry in a way that could cripple the economy," he said, noting, "we think that self-regulation has been very effective."

The DMA called on its members to assist in consumer education of the benefits of data-driven marketing today in a press release, imploring them to "join in by increasing consumer-facing communications about how marketing data is used responsibly for marketing purposes."

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