Just as Mr. Howe applauded the intent of the Affordable Care Act
to offer better access to healthcare, he supports the Data bill's
intent to give people better data protection -- but fears the
"If you think about the worst part of the ACA, welcome to the
data bills," he said.
He said the bill does two things that will be bad for the
industry. Firstly, "if approved in its current form, it's approving
legislation that hasn't even been written," he said, since the bill
gives the FTC power to write the legislation. That would be
followed by a period of time during which the industry would agree
to adhere to it. "If I'm going to agree to something, then I want
to agree to something specific," he said.
But his other big concern is the provision of the bill that
would grant consumers access to data held by data brokers serving
the marketing industry, allowing them to correct information or
opt-out from use of that data for marketing purposes.
"It grants the government the ability to create a centralized
consumer data portal whereby all permissions are granted," he told
the crowd. The complications of building such a portal "makes the
ACA look like child's play."
Mr. Howe, who was interviewed by Medialink CEO Michael Kassan,
shared that when Acxiom was working last year on its AboutTheData.com portal, which
similarly allows consumers to see what data Acxiom has about them
and correct inaccuracies or opt-out, it had an "army of engineers"
building it. He said: "This is one of the most difficult technology
That said, he is in favor of regulation -- just not this
"People are surprised to hear I've pushed for regulation," said
Mr. Howe. "I fear self-regulation is a euphemism for doing
The Rockefeller proposal, introduced in February, "should make
us all nervous," he continued. "The right answer is somewhere in
between. It can't be 'do nothing,' but it can't be let's have
someone over there decide it all for us."
He suggested regulation should focus on creating specific "guard
rails" around data collection, data storage and data usage -- not
building a consumer-data portal.
Mr. Howe said that watching the data breach that besieged "a
major retailer" over the holidays and the way information
subsequently came out in dribs and drabs made it clear that there's
a good argument for having "strong breach-notification laws about
what needs to be communicated to whom and when."
Eliminating the bad apples
Other regulatory goals he supports: ensuring that marketing data
will only be used for marketing purposes and not for things like
evaluating job applications or financial-approval decisions, and
ensuring data isn't used to take advantage of the elderly or
"To the extent that legislation could eliminate the bad apples
in the data space, that's good for all of us," he said.
Mr. Howe also offered updates on consumer usage of
AboutTheData.com. In the first six months of its existence, more
than 750,000 visitors visited the site and Acxiom recorded an
opt-out rate of 1.5%. About 11% of visitors changed some element of
their data. The most common change was political party, followed by
income and education levels.
He said the most common piece of written feedback was a question
-- "Where can I tell you more?" -- and one piece of criticism we
got was "this can't be all you know." (In fact, testing from Ad Age
staffers found the data surprisingly
scant -- and in many cases outdated.)
Incidentally, the most popular category of data that people
wanted Acxiom to know was that of their favorite brands -- Nike, Apple, Sony, Google and Coke.
Data as currency
Mr. Howe's talk at the event, a gathering of telecom executives
produced by investment bank Rutberg & Co., was preceded by one
from Paul Jacobs, executive chairman of Qualcomm Incorporated, who also suggested the
internet needed to address the data question.
Mr. Jacobs said his hope for 5G -- the next major phase of
mobile telecommunications -- was that it would "reinvent" the
internet to correct for some of the problems the internet hasn't
solved, such as, he said, the question of "Do I own my data?"
Currently, he said, data "is not ours like the dollar bills in
our pocket," which you can choose to give out based on what you get
in return. But that is the direction we're headed.
"Consumers have voted with their feet that they're willing to
give up certain information for certain services. The question is
whether that [exchange] in the future is going to be a more