Big data proponents may have a bigger problem on their hands than the privacy concerns of consumers.
Last week, the data broker Acxiom launched a website, AboutTheData.com, to give individuals a peek into what is known about their households, education levels, income, purchasing behavior, ethnicity, political affiliations, etc. The exercise was done with the idea of transparency, to make people feel more at ease with the information being collected. Acxiom claims to hold information on 190 million consumers in the U.S. that it sells to retailers and other marketers.
What I found out about myself going through the site didn't make me any more or less concerned about the data being collected. But, what did cause me concern was the level of inaccuracy in my personal report. Household information relative to number of children was off by three kids. Occupation (craftsman/blue collar) gave me a giggle especially considering when my wife and I married she was the one who brought a toolbox to the union. Political affiliation was wrong as were a couple other minor points.
But, if so many points could be wrong about myself—someone who shares information with the hope that one day it will actually be of some benefit to me—then what happens if data points are also wrong for millions of others? I asked others to go on the Acxiom site and errors, although not egregious, were common.
Separately, Melanie Hicken, a reporter for CNNMoney, aged 26 and single, found that she was married and the mother of two teenagers, which she described as "just about biologically impossible."
Even as Acxiom shared some information, critics suggested the company was holding back on data that individuals might find more troubling. Others suggested the company was making profiles available only so that consumers could help it clean up its database.
How accurate is the information that companies are compiling about consumers as part of their big data efforts?