I’m single, recently divorced with no kids and am an active Republican voter and donor. I’m also interested in sweepstakes and contests, hunting and shooting sports and have an interest in grandchildren.
For those of you who know me, the information above is total garbage. Yet Acxiom will happily rent your company that nonsense if you’re looking to market to single, recently-divorced hunters.
I discovered all these wonderful facts when I registered on AboutTheData.com, which is Acxiom’s (poor) attempt to let us see and correct what they know about us. After you’ve jumped through the considerable hoops, you can see what Acxiom knows about you. I’m not surprised that it’s hard to get access. The data quality is generally poor and the mistakes are ludicrous.
The data on me ranged from very accurate (the value of my home and economic data about my household) to laughable (purchase history and household interest data.)
Further–and I never realized this–I actually have two birthdays! Depending on how you ask the question of Acxiom, you might get different dates.
The Practitioner Problem
I believe that some of the problem stems from the users of the data. If the practitioners aren’t detecting discrepancies and alerting the consumer data giants about inconsistencies–and demanding make-goods for shoddy information–then there’s no incentive to correct the data.
Do today’s online marketers even know to check the “grandchildren interest” flag for single people with no kids? It’s relatively easy to crosstab the file and flag inconsistencies for your data supplier. Database marketing 101, but nowadays I don’t run across many marketers who know what a clean and dupe report is, never mind how to analyze one.
The WTF Factor
When you dig deeper into each of Acxiom’s categories, you find real head-scratchers on how they’ve categorized the data. For example, in the ethnicity category, Acxiom offers the following:
- American Indian
You can only be in one category. So if you are of Japanese descent, you might be either in the generic “Asian” category or “Japanese.” Since all Asians share the same culture, close enough, right? Further, you get the weird category of “Portuguese” which is only weird because the number of US residents of French, Russian, Polish or whatever background probably greatly outnumbers those whose relatives hail from Portugal. Yet all those folks are presumably lumped into “Caucasian/White.”
Like some of the other categories, it looks like nobody’s thought this through particularly well.
Where It Gets Dangerous
Nobody would use consumer data giant information for credit screening, of course. That’s not allowed by the FCRA. Yet every day, companies select customers based on the files held on us by Axciom, Experian and the other and make offers based on those selections.
If the data giants believe I like dogs instead of cats, no big deal. If the data giants mess up my household income information, then I may only see offers for high interest rate credit cards. And I can only buy what I can see.
That mistake may cost a household hundreds of dollars a year because of a higher interest rate. Who has the incentive to fix the flaws? Not the consumer data giant–they got their fee for the license. A credit card issuer is perfectly happy too, reaping the rewards of a higher interest rate. (When’s the last time your credit card issuer proactively lowered your rate?)
What You Should Do
First, get access to your data. Check to see that it’s correct, particularly if you are interested in credit. While the information can’t be used in an FCRA sense to decide whether to grant you credit, you’ll at least make sure you’re seeing the right ads.
Second, decide how much you want the consumer data giants to know about you. You might consider choosing to not make certain information available for marketing. You might also consider spreading a little uncertainty about your habits.
Just some tips from a 38 year old self-employed retiree, who drives a 1989 Merkur XR4Ti.