Further adventures in data mining, Or welcome to my Lear Jet lifestyle

Data miners like Acxiom know a lot about you -- or at least they think they do. We may soon find out exactly how much.

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Good news. Acxiom plans to let us all peek under the kimono and get a gander at what it is they know about us. Which is to say, quite a bit.

Never heard of Acxiom? Let me clue you in. Every Web tracking company out there, including Google and Facebook, are punks compared to Acxiom. They’ve been at the data mining business so long they have files on Cain and Abel. Like fellow giants ChoicePoint and Intelius, Acxiom combines information from multiple sources – including public records databases, supermarket loyalty cards, warranty programs, mail order catalogs, and magazine subscriber lists, to name a few – and rolls them into broad profiles of consumers that it sells to banks, insurers, and direct marketers.

Now, of course, Acxiom is also gathering online data via tracking cookies. And they’re merging their data with Facebook’s so the social network can do a better job of targeting ads to us based on stuff we’ve bought in real life, and not just stuff we clicked the Like button on. (Insert paranoid rant no. 327 here.)

Yesterday, the Financial Times and CNET reported that Acxiom plans to allow consumers to actually look at all the bits of data they’ve gathered about us. To which I say, about friggin’ time. Though Acxiom is better than some large data brokers when it comes to transparency, they’re not exactly great at it. So this is a welcome step, one other data brokers may be forced to follow, if the FTC and Congress have their way.

What’s in your Acxiom file? We don’t know yet – the company is still working out the kinks of how it can disclose this data without opening up everyone to identity theft. But you can get a hint of what Acxiom thinks you're like by perusing its PersonicX database, which lumps every US adult into one of 70-odd “clusters.”

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