The world around us seems like it’s changing rapidly, doesn’t it? There’s no avoiding advertising, which funds the shows we watch, the magazines we read and the content we consume. Most of us use social media, buy things online and use texts and e-mails to communicate. Every day, massive amounts of data are generated about us. But what happens to it and how is it being used?
Companies like ours haven’t historically done a good job of educating people on what we do with data about them. Largely because of that, misperceptions abound. As a result, people are increasingly concerned with their personal data privacy. Much of the problem is that in this hyper-connected, technology-filled world, people feel like they don’t know what kinds of information are being collected about them and they don’t believe they have any choice in the matter.
We get it. We really do. Actually, for far too long, Acxiom has contributed to the mystery surrounding the world of “big data.” Quite frankly, that’s not okay.
So we’re trying to do something about it.
Earlier this week, my colleagues at Acxiom and I launched a new website called AboutTheData.com. Designed to provide people with both visibility and control over the data that has been collected about them, AboutTheData.com is a first for both the “big data” industry and Acxiom. We’ve recruited people from trusted companies such as Google, Apple and Yahoo! to help build the site and it’s been a labor of love.
If you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of visitors to AboutTheData.com during its first few days of existence, you’ll note that we labeled the site as a “beta.” This is a distinction often given to a brand new product that isn’t yet perfected, and we chose this designation because we knew we had a lot to learn.
With your help, we’ve been learning a lot! Many of you have been generous with constructive feedback and suggestions, and I thank you for sharing them. Already, some of your suggestions are being worked on and will be incorporated into our website in the coming days. A small minority of visitors have criticized our efforts. That’s okay – we’ve learned a lot from them also. In fact, I’ve personally tried to read virtually every article, blog, tweet or comment about the new website. Please keep your comments coming using the “Feedback and Support” button over on the right-hand side once you’re logged into the site and looked at your information. Your continued input will help us create something that better educates all of us about data, gives us all more visibility into what has been collected and how it’s used and ultimately gives all of us greater choice.
For those that are interested, I intend to post here regularly, with updates on what we’re learning, what we’re hearing and what we’re doing. I’ll also invite some of my colleagues in this effort to do the same.
Some examples of the website enhancements that are already underway:
- Over 10% of site visitors had some problems with their identity verification. Most typically, this was caused by the need for exact spelling of a visitor’s full, formal name. We need to explain this better on the site.
- Others were tripped up by the way birthdates had to be entered. We’re solving this by creating easier drop down selections.
- On some data elements, we’ve found that we need to explain what they actually represent more clearly. And some of the data simply needs improvement – your feedback is helping us identify why this may be the case.
In addition, you’ve helped us identify areas where we need to better answer your most common questions and concerns. In coming days, I’m going to establish an ongoing list of answers to your questions, but here are some of the things I’ve heard most frequently:
If I opt out or suppress data, is it really deleted from the system? Answer: Absolutely, though it does take some time to fully flow through our system. That said, we do need to keep a record of your decision so that we can honor them in the future. That decision record is not used for any marketing purpose – but only to ensure that we honor your preferences.
Why do you ask me for personal information up-front, and isn’t that just added to my data file? Answer: We ask for information that can help prove who you are. Your answers to these questions are not stored in our marketing database nor used for any subsequent marketing purposes. Period.
Are you just doing this to satisfy regulators? Answer: Regulation and legislation are realities and they’re on our mind. However, the issue of transparency was one of the very first things I asked the team to begin addressing when I came to Acxiom two years ago. We created AboutTheData.com because we believed it was, above all, the right thing to do. Giving people greater visibility and control over the data that is collected about them creates better experiences for all of us.
As I write this, a group of my colleagues and I are trading ideas about the site enhancements we plan to make next week. From the start, I’ve believed AboutTheData.com will be a journey in which we’ll build greater trust, transparency and value for people everywhere. This week’s site release represented a small first step for us. But we’re not done yet. And, importantly, your helpful feedback is the fuel that sustains us.