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Who Is Acxiom And What Does It Do With Consumers' Personal Data?

A friend alerted me about this news story in the U.K. Telegraph newspaper:

"Somewhere in Little Rock, Arkansas, there is a database holding 750 billion pieces of information on you, me and everyone we know. John Meyer is the man in charge of these sensitive details in one of the world's largest consumer information databases: approximately 1,500 facts about half a billion people worldwide."

I'll bet you hadn't heard of Acxiom before. Neither had I. The author doubted the accuracy and scope of Axiom's consumer data. Meyer's reply:

"Oh we do have you on our database. I guarantee you... Your name address, phone number. You have a cat. You're right handed. That sort of thing."

Meyer was correct about the author's personal data. How Acxiom collects information worldwide about consumers' personal habits and product purchases:

"All information on the database has been given away freely by the consumer through anything from registering for services online, to questionnaires or buying magazine subscriptions, Mr Meyer claims."

I wonder how precise that statement is. Meyer's explanation sounds intentionally vague, since a company will built its brand and revenues on processes that are more solid, definable, and defensible against competitors. After all, the corporation's sales were about $1.0 billion during the last 12 months.

This news story in The Cabin starts to shed some light on things. After a Conway, Arkansas Rotary Club member asked Meyer how Acxiom gets its data, Meyer replied:

" 'Sorry, that's a trade secret.' But then Meyer relented and said that bit of information is one of 750 billion discrete bits of information collected by Acxiom... The vehicle identification number on [a consumer's] car is one of those bits, Meyer explained, and it shows the color of his car is blue, and that gives Acxiom a clue that Roger probably has an affinity for blue cars... Acxiom collects information from 375 million consumers for 12,000 marketing campaigns and 150,000 background checks a month and the handling of 17 percent of the mail in the U.S... Acxiom's original method of marketing was direct mail, Meyer said, but has now expanded to Global Interactive Marketing Services in 60 countries, including, among other forward-reaching methods, e-mail, product placement in TV and movies and text messaging."

Meyer's statement is interesting about the company's approach with consumers' preferences. I wonder how much of the company's "data" is built on probabilities and not actual preferences. Consider this: our family car is blue. My wife and I both drive it. Does that mean I prefer blue, my wife prefers blue, or both? Or may we are just too lazy to change the color of the used car we bought.

More importantly, this tells me that Acxiom has some definite processes it uses that it doesn't want to disclose. It suggests that companies engage with Acxiom to target and reach specific consumer audiences. And along the way, Acxiom probably adds to its database collection. But I shouldn't have to guess. Consumers deserve a clearer explanation since Acxiom is making money from our personal data.

This also tells me that more companies besides Acxiom may have the VIN data about my car and yours. I wonder how many. I surely didn't give my vehicle VIN number to any companies. I wonder if Acxiom got it from the states vehicle registries or from the manufacturers.

After a little online research, I found this class-action lawsuit against Acxiom which sheds more light on things:

"Taylor et al v. Acxiom Corporation et al : Plaintiffs bring a class action against defendants for unlawfully purchasing Texas' entire database of names, addresses and other personal information from the Texas Department of Public Safety."

Some familiar companies are part of the list of defendants: Choicepoint and Lexis-Nexis. Geez. If feels like whenever I turn over a rock, there isn't a snake underneath but a geyser. This lawsuit started in 2007, included references to the Drivers Privacy Protection Act (DPPA), and worked its way through various dismissal motions by the defendants. Two points I use this to emphasize. First, the lawsuit uncovered relationships between companies and states regarding the sharing of consumers personal data. Second, your vehicle VIN is not considered personal data.

Do you consider your vehicle VIN personal data? I do. And I'll bet you do, too. The DPPA doesn't. That doesn't seem right to me. I hope that it annoys you, too.

Knowing all of this, you're probably wondering if you can opt out of Acxiom's database. Bob Sullivan covered this issue about Acxiom in this Red Tape Chronicles blog:

"... the company is entirely old fashioned when it comes to letting consumers opt out of its huge database of personal information. To do so, they must visit the firm's Web site and fill out a Web form. Acxiom will then mail a paper “opt-out form,” which consumers must then fill out and mail back."

What?! Experts view this convoluted opt-out process as simply an attempt by the company to discourage consumers from opting out. This is one reason why I prefer opt-in. If the company's service is so great, consumers will opt-in. If companies have to force users to use their service with an opt-out mechanism, then maybe the service isn't as great as the companies claim:

"It's ridiculous to think that in this era these companies require a letter for this," says Pam Dixon, director of the World Privacy Forum, which sent a formal letter of complaint (PDF) to the Federal Trade Commission..."

To me, this is the insidious side of data collection when companies use an opt-out approach. If consumers don't even know that the company is collecting data about them, how can they possibly opt out? And it forces consumers to become an expert of the company's products and services, so they can effectively opt out of the correct services. In my opinion, this is the slimy side of business.

Regardless, the company describes itself this way in its Web site:

"Acxiom works with many of the world’s leading companies, including: 12 of the top 15 credit card issuers, 12 of the top 15 retail banking companies, 9 of the top 10 telecom/media companies, 7 of the top 10 retailers, 9 of the top 10 automotive manufacturers, 6 of the top 8 brokerage firms, 3 of the top 5 pharmaceutical manufacturers, 2 of the top 5 life/health insurance providers, 8 of the top 10 property and casualty insurers..."

You get the idea. When a company collects this much personal data about consumers and makes money from it, it deserves scrutiny. And consumers deserve transparent communication about who has their data and why.

My concerns center around data collection and data security, especially with telecommunications. I checked a couple data bases and so far, Acxiom hasn't had (or reported) a data breach. I hope to explore more in future blog posts.

What are your thoughts and opinions about Acxiom? About the extent companies collect consumers' personal data?


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Van Sales

I visited this blog first time and found it very interesting and informative.. Keep up the good work thanks..


"This is one reason why I prefer opt-in."

You did opt-in. Anytime you fill out a survey, post information on your facebook account, scan your grocery store rewards card etc... you are opting in.


Dear Anonymous:

It's far more complicated than what you claim. Read the Behavioral Advertising section of this blog. Much was done by ISPs without any consumer notification and without opt-out mechanisms. Hence the class-action lawsuits. I never opted-in with Acxiom, but it has my data, thanks to a web site's privacy and terms policies that never honestly and fully disclosed exactly what they were doing and who they were sharing my data with. So, part of the problem is lack of transparency (open, honest, direct communication by company web sites).

Going with an "opt-in approach" places the burden on the company web site to convince me, the consumer, why I should opt-in to their program.

And next time you comment, I hope that you'll share who you are.



Here is something that might put your mind at ease... I was at a tradeshow in 2003 or 2004 where Acxiom presented some information on database technology. I don't remember any of the information about databases - what I do remember is how they pulled the greatest service in US history that VERY FEW PEOPLE know about...

Two days after the 9/11 attacks in New York, the US Government was pouring over information trying to figure out who were the terrorists. As the story goes (as told by a representative of Acxiom), the US government had information on these terrorists. The problem was some of that information was in the INS database, the FBI database, the CIA database, the dept of justice database, and a variety of other government databases. The challenge was (as with the rescue effort), it was hard to coordinate inter-government groups. None of the databases were shared meaning INS could not compare their data to the FBI's and vice versa. The other challenge is the data itself - if a person uses a slightly different spelling of their name, aliases, uses an extra surname, reverses the order of their names, most databases can not reconcile for that issue.

Acxiom stepped in and offered to help (no charge if that is important to you). Using financial data that they had, they were able to construct the names and aliases of each, where they lived, their bank accounts, and most importantly--- every person they lived with at multiple residences over the period of two years. Acxiom not only identified the attackers but they also were able to hand over a list of over 250 collegues to the US Govt.

On Sep 14, 2001, the FBI listed the terrorists. Acxiom went on to teach the Govt how to integrate their databases and share information amongst each other.

Today, Acxiom (for fee) helps the US Govt with many types of inquiries. For example, when the Mississippi River floods in the midwest, Acxiom can assist FEMA with estimating just about anything - many people will be displaced at certain parts of the river, what businesses will likely suffer, estimate rebuilding loans for business or residential, how many children will need to move to different schools in every age catalogy (elementary, Jr high, and high), what the average income is per household, etc.

So while I might share some of your animosity about data sharing, I sure am glad that they are times where companies can be altrustic for the good of everyone.

Franklin Brooks

Well I have found that Acxiom is giving out very outdated information on people. I applied for a job with WAWA in PA and was not given the job due to information that Acxiom found out about me. It was a criminal record that was 11 years old and had been expunged. For this information I was not given the chance to interview for this job. To me if they collect then they damn well better be able to keep it current. They NEVER clean out their data bases unless you ask them to, but then it's too late.



Thanks for sharing your experience. Sorry to hear about the problems erroneous data has caused you. If you have the time, energy, and money you might:

1) Read Acxiom's Privacy Policy for tips about what to do to correct erroneous data. I don't know where you live so you will have to select the policy that applies from the list here: http://www.acxiom.com/about_us/privacy/Pages/Privacy.aspx

2) If you live in the USA, then this policy and the opt-out links on this page may help:

3) If you live in the USA, this page has instructions about how to correct erroneous data: http://www.acxiom.com/ABOUT_US/US-REFERENCE-INFORMATION-REPORT/Pages/USReferenceInformation.aspx

I have not dealt with Acxiom so I cannot state how long this will take, how effective the company is at making changes, or how quick the company responds to inquiries like yours.

4) You might contact your U.S. Congressional reps and ask for help. Your rep in the House of Representatives is often a good first stop. They often have staff members assigned to various topics to help their constituents.

5) If all else fails, hire an attorney or credit resolution service to help you.

If I find other options, I will post them here and on this blog. Good luck and let us know what happens.




Thank you very much for the information, I have hired an attorney to see what will happen. They did correct the error but they rely on you to tell them, the worse thing is that the first report was sent to the employer and they just sent out a revised amended copy with it removed. It nice for future checks but still if you think about it would you hire me if you read the first report.

That is why I hired a lawyer and I will keep this site updated on what happens with it. We all need to get together and fight this some how or some way so it does not happen to others as I am sure it is as I write this.

The Company is a snake and the companies that use them are just as bad, they know Acxiom will find dirt on almost anyone.

Thanks again.


Acxiom obtained confidential (non-conviction) arrest records from the state of Washington and is disseminating them; If you get a background check done through them and there is a problem with the criminal history; note that the document is a consumer report, they are a credit reporting agency and thus they are bound by the Fair Credit Reporting Act. I'm talking with the Washington State ACLU about this now to see what can be done. Below are a couple great resources to follow during the dispute process





Thanks for the info and links. Acxiom is a credit reporting agency? I thought that it was a data broker or data aggregator. Are you sure? What led you to this conclusion?


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