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Technology & Innovation

Companies that Hold the Most Private Data Are Invisible to the Public

Forget Google. Larger data-gathering corporations combine decades of pre-Internet consumer research with online tracking tools to create a frighteningly powerful database.  

What’s the Latest Development?

By combining decades of individualized consumer research with the power of online tracking, little-publicized data collection companies are amassing unprecedented amounts of information on individuals and families across the US. Acxiom Corporation, for example, is the “quiet giant” of the multibillion-dollar database marketing industry. “Company executives have said its database contains information about 500 million active consumers worldwide, with about 1,500 data points per person. That includes a majority of adults in the US.” Federal authorities are concerned about the low public profile of such powerful companies. 

What’s the Big Idea?

As a result of the breadth of information held by Acxiom, certain individuals are targeted in an extremely specific manner by advertisers, individuals who are judged to be sensitive to suggestions made by sellers’ campaigns. But concerns arise over the industry’s habit of labeling some individuals as ‘waste’, i.e. people who do not respond to ads. “…if marketing algorithms judge certain people as not worthy of receiving promotions for higher education or health services, they could have a serious impact.” Concerns also abound over how these massive companies protect consumer data. As one New York Times reporter found out, not very well…

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