11/23/2014

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Problem Solvers

What do companies know about you? Now you can check

What do companies know about you? Now you can check

It's no secret: there are businesses out there that mine public documents, your online purchases, even your social media accounts to learn more about you.  They then sell that information to other companies. 

But now, for the first time, you can see the dirt those companies have on you and opt out if you want.

Acxiom Corp. is one of the largest data-mining companies. Earlier this month the company unlocked its vault of information, making it possible for you to view your personal information or, at least, what it thinks is your personal information.

Imagine your computer or cell phone as a moving target. Using your personal preferences, companies focus online or mobile ads to your interests. The more that they know about you, the better chance they have of hitting the bullseye – that is, getting you to buy something they're selling. 

But how good is their data?

We went to Acxiom's website to find out.

Using information from KATU producer Kelly Hatmaker, we logged in to check his personal profile.

Be warned: You do need to provide some personal information, like the last four digits of your social security number, to verify it's really you. The company does not have access to the full number.

So what does the company know about Kelly?  Well, it thinks that our male, Caucasian producer is an Asian female who's married with two children.  It's true that Kelly does have two kids, but the rest of the information is incorrect.

The profile does explain why he's been receiving junk mail for garden tours in Asia.

The website was more accurate about Kelly's biggest purchases – his home and car, right down to his insurance renewal month.

And the section about Kelly's interests? Cooking, celebrities, and crafts.  For record, Kelly is not crafty.

Overall, Kelly says the profile was about 50 percent accurate.

Acxiom pulls its information from offline sources, like:

  • City and state records
  • Census reports
  • Surveys
  • Product registration and warranty cards   

The company gets online data from cookies placed on your internet browser that record the websites you visit and public information posted on social media.

So once you've viewed your profile, what options do you have?

  • Correct the information. The ads that you get will be more targeted to your interests.
  • Opt out. You'll still get unsolicited ads – you can't stop that – they'll just be more generic.

Kelly's next move?

"I don't need to be told about anything. I don't need to be sold anything right now," said Kelly, "so I'm probably going to opt out."

As a rule, the Problem Solvers don't recommend responding to unsolicited offers or clicking on websites that you don't go to directly.

For that reason, we recommend opting out.

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