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. 

  • derekullo
    I love the "give us your information so we can tell you how much information we have on you" thing they have going
  • mouse24
    To access your account for the first time, you'll need to enter your first and last name, your address, your birthdate, the last four digits of your Social Security number, your email address and a Captcha.

    Uh, how about no.
  • TeraMedia
    If they want the last four of my SSN, then they need to prove to me that they already have my SSN. Same goes with the other data.

    I wish sites like this would do a double-sided challenge-and-response type of authentication instead of this overbearing "give us everything and we'll let you know if we agree that you are who you say you are - or not. And we'll keep any information you've given us during the process."

    For example, if my SSN was 123-45-6789, then they could say something like "give us the 4th digit of your SSN, to which I reply "4", along with a request that THEY give the 8th digit (which I would choose out of the remaining digits). If either side messes up, then authentication has failed. And chances of a site correctly guessing more than 2 digits drops off fast enough to keep most crooks at bay.

    Or, if they need the SSN for identification, then they could use some of the other information such as birthdate and name to prove that they already have your data, instead of only for authentication of you.

    Or, pass a token from the "" website or whatever it is that verifies that I have authenticated for my SSN, and force these guys to prove that they know my name.

    Congress is not helping us with any of this, of course. And they could. They just choose not to.
  • The_Trutherizer
    "Access your account"

    What bloody "account"? It's a freaking dossier or a record; not an account. I never opened an account. Never subscribed to anything. Some lazy ahole who can't think of honest ways to earn money opened a so called "account" for me.

    Call it what it is douche bags.

    Nobody would have minded if they just tried to collect geographic interests. Like the people in this or that city like falafel, but they just had to damn well go and be evil about it.