Acxiom knows all your secrets

Its new Audience Operating System combines your online and offline identities into one -- the better to sell you stuff. UPDATE: Acxiom responds

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Suddenly you are no longer a dozen different people in Acxiom’s database; you are now one person. And the information you provided to that Web site is combined with your offline purchases from LL Bean, your mailing address, your cell number, your corporate email address, and every other bit of data Acxiom has managed to hoover up about you over the past four decades.

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Don’t Acxiom, don’t tell

This is fabulous news for marketers and the people who love hearing from them. For consumers who aren’t so enamored of marketers and are jealous of their privacy, not so much.

The problem here is that you didn’t ask Acxiom to combine all your online and offline information together for your various identities. In fact, you might have good reasons for not wanting your ultra-liberal boss – or anyone else -- to know that you are a registered Libertarian who gives money to the Tea Party and subscribes to Guns and Gardens magazine. If she happens to be an AOS customer seeking people with exactly these attributes, she might.

Using different identities to hide certain facets of your life is a very common tactic. You’ve heard of security through obscurity? Call this privacy through promiscuity. Everyone gets a little slice of your data; nobody gets the whole pie. Until now, that is.

Chief Privacy Officer Jennifer Barrett-Glasgow emphasizes that Acxiom does not collect or use customer data without permission, and how it can use such data is limited by contracts with its clients and by law. Thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, for example, this profile data can’t be used to determine eligibility for credit, insurance, or employment.

The problem, of course, is that in the vast majority of cases such permission is obtained automatically by the fine print inside a privacy policy nobody but geeks like me ever read. If that policy says the company collecting your data shares it with third parties, there’s a pretty good chance it’s in Acxiom’s database.

Acxiom also says the data only travels in one direction. It knows who those parents of newborns are, but the insurance company doesn’t – unless, of course, people click through the ads and reveal themselves.

Bottom line: Marketers are about to know a heckovalot more about you, including things you might not want them to. If that bothers you, best to opt out now before it’s too late.

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