Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Data Mining and You

You may have read the article in Sunday's New York Times or other news coverage about the efforts of Acxiom, a data mining company, to make an individual's data available to him or her. The site went live today in beta - that's a screenshot of the opening page - and I checked it out.

You have to provide some information about yourself: address, birth date, and the last four numbers of your social security number. That's so Acxiom can authenticate that you are really you. When you do so, you get data in several categories, what Acxiom calls core data (address, phone number, age) and derived insights (inferences derived from your core data - eg, whether you like cooking).

So what happens when you explore the data? It was kind of interesting. When I looked myself up, it had the basics of age and address right. There's not a lot of data about our housing, but our housing type means that the records are corporate, not individual, so it makes sense that there wouldn't be much information. Our car is in my name, so finding nothing about the car was a bit more of a surprise. The records indicated the presence of one of our children, with an incorrect age. There was some incomplete information about my online shopping habits - a bit skewed by the fact that we bought a lot of bed linens online when one of the kids left for college. Two years ago.

Things got more interesting when it came to my spouse. He has been conflated with someone with the same name and a similar birthday who is 20 years older. That person bought an expensive condo in 2007, is of a different religion, owns a car and plays golf. So what's our conclusion? No one here is going to lose any sleep over consumer data mining.

The Aboutthedata site allows you to correct the information. There seems to be little downside in doing so, but also little need to. The company argues that more accurate information means that you'll get more relevant offers in all those annoying little side ads that appear when you do web searches (or go on Facebook). I try to ignore them but sometimes find them entertaining. You also have an opt-out option, but that won't give you any fewer ads, the site explains. It will just make them less relevant.

What do you think?

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