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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A few weeks ago I hinted that consumer data aggregator Acxiom would soon announce a product that would likely give angina to many of us who are protective of our personal privacy. I urged people to opt out using Acxiom’s new AboutTheData portal. Now I can finally say why.

Yesterday, the not-so-little data broker from Little Rock unveiled its Audience Operating System (AOS) to the world. This isn’t a product for you or me. It’s a product for marketers – retailers, emailers, advertisers, lead generation services, yadda yadda -- anyone who who wants to sell you stuff by showing you a Web or email ad, sending you junk mail, or calling you during the middle of dinner.

AOS’s main claim to fame is that it is the only marketing database that can offer “a single view of the consumer” to any company that subscribes to it, says Chief Product and Engineering Officer Phil Mui, who offered me a demo of AOS via Webcast.

Say you’re an insurance company and you want to reach parents of newborns, says Mui. The insurance company doesn’t have an easy way of knowing which of its existing customers just had a baby, but Acxiom does. It can take the insurance company’s customer list, search for those in its database who, say, just registered with a diaper service, and then send a marketing pitch to just those people via a Facebook ad.

[Note: Acxiom says this example is inaccurate. For this and other objections, please see page three of this post.]

In the past it might have taken the insurance company days to match names between different databases, if they could do it at all. Using AOS they can do it in minutes, says Mui.

Pinning you down

The reason they can do this – really, the lynchpin of AOS – is something Acxiom calls “entity resolution.”

To the outside marketing world, you are not just one entity, you are many entities. If you filled out a Web registration form using your Gmail address, you’re one person to that site. If you ordered something from the LL Bean catalog over your landline, you’re a different person to the mail order house. When you use your corporate email address to sign up for a professional newsletter, you’re yet another person. Take a survey via cell phone? You’re now on entity number 4 and counting. That’s because all of these things are keyed to a different piece of identifying data (email address, phone number, etc).

Acxiom claims it can take all those disparate bits of you and, though the magic of its Abilitec data-matching algorithms, create one cohesive profile (a “Safe Haven”) that combines all of this information into one.

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