The Private NSA: See What Acxiom Knows About You

What is Acxiom?

What kind of music do you like? What size clothing do you buy? Do you have kids? Where do you live, and how do you decorate your house?

Today's marketers are hungry for any and all of your personal information, including answers to questions like these. And it's Acxiom's job to give it to them.

This Arkansas-based company specializes in collecting purchasing-histories from both online and physical retail locations, matching all this data to individual people, and then selling these extremely detailed profiles back to retailers. 

Recently, the company agreed to let people view their own Acxiom profiles. We'll walk you through how to do it and what the data means for your online privacy.

What is Acxiom?

Every online retailer builds profiles of its customers based on their activity on its website. That usually includes your name, site-specific search history, credit card information, IP address and previous purchases. But what if a company wants to know what you've bought on other websites?

That's where Acxiom comes in.

Founded in 1969, this Little Rock, Ark.-based company started off doing marketing analysis for brick-and-mortar retail outlets, eventually incorporating Internet shopping, as well.

Today, Acxiom partners with hundreds, perhaps thousands of websites and physical retail locations, and gathers information on the consumers who visit those stores. Acxiom then aggregates the data it collects across these sites and builds unique profiles of individual people, selling the profiles back to retailers.

These comprehensive profiles give online companies information from your search history on sites other than their own — and from your offline purchasing habits.

Needless to say, the amount of information Acxiom has at its fingertips has alarmed privacy advocates. To assuage those concerns, on Sept. 4, Acxiom opened up a website portal called AboutTheData that allows individuals to look at some of the records the company stores about them.

Acxiom says that AboutTheData is still in beta, meaning only a limited selection of the information Acxiom has on you is available for view. However, the company said it will make more of each individual's data available at a later date.

But if you're interested in seeing the information about yourself that Acxiom has decided to let you see, or if you'd like to edit that data to let Acxiom's partners market to you with an even greater specificity, then read on.

Jill Scharr is a creative writer and narrative designer in the videogame industry. She's currently Project Lead Writer at the games studio Harebrained Schemes, and has also worked at Bungie. Prior to that she worked as a Staff Writer for Tom's Guide, covering video games, online security, 3D printing and tech innovation among many subjects.