Acxiom's AboutTheData.com: A Good First Step?

Acxiom: a peek inside the vault.

GigaOm, an online news source covering technology and media disruption, today assesses Acxiom Corp.'s move to open its data trove to the public via its AboutTheData.com website, saying the move "fell flat" and raised more questions than it answered about the nature of privacy and data collection.

GigaOm first notes concerns surfaced in this Financial Times article, in which the Center for Digital Democracy called Acxiom's effort toward transparency "disingenuous" and an "attempt to engage in misinformation." (You can see the CDD's full blog post on Acxiom right here.)

Others said Acxiom failed to show users all the data it collects about them. And the article pointed to comments by Justin Brookman of the Center for Democracy & Technology, who said the site is a way for Acxiom to collect more data about consumers when it requires folks to sign in with personally identifiable information.

Acxiom appears to refute the latter in its privacy policy statement on AboutTheData.com -- and Acxiom CEO Scott Howe was more specific in a blog post about the site on Friday:

Why do you ask me for personal information up-front, and isn’t that just added to my data file? Answer: We ask for information that can help prove who you are. Your answers to these questions are not stored in our marketing database nor used for any subsequent marketing purposes. Period.

In all, GigaOm writer Jeff John Roberts sees positive outcomes from Acxiom's bold move:

Taking a longer view, however, Acxiom’s half-hearted attempt to teach consumers about data may eventually pay off. Keep in mind that overall data literacy in society is extremely low right now, which means that consumers are continually riled up by privacy panic headlines — even as they embrace sites Facebook, Google and many other data-driven companies because the services they offer are not only convenient, but free of charge.

In this context, Acxiom’s disclosures — tricky and incomplete as they may be — could prove to be a useful first step in helping consumers and politicians discuss privacy in a less hysterical tone. 

That's certainly one of Acxiom's goals, particulary as Congress and regulators continue to investigate Acxiom's practices and the practices of its peers. It's better for Acxiom to start the discussion on its own terms. And whatever you think about AboutTheData.com, there's no doubt that discussion is now underway.

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