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Data Marketers Know What You Bought Last Summer

If you've ever wondered just how much marketing companies know about you, whether it's your education or income or purchase preferences, today you can see for yourself.

With the beta launch of AboutTheData.com, marketing technology company Acxiom is giving you a glimpse of the online profile your shopping habits have created for you — the one digital marketers use to sell things to you. As The New York Times reported:

"The company collects, stores, analyzes and sells consumer data with the aim of helping its clients — including well-known banks, credit card issuers, insurance companies, department stores and carmakers — tailor marketing to their most valuable current customers or identify new customers.

...

"Some federal regulators and privacy advocates warn that this kind of data-mining could be used to aim at consumers vulnerable to predatory lending practices, for instance, or to favor certain high-value consumers with instant, attentive customer service while relegating other people to interminable wait time.

"[Acxiom CEO Scott] Howe says he wants to counter such fears by making industry practices more transparent."

Acxiom touts the new site as "the first online consumer portal ... that allows individuals to view and update core data elements that are part of the information Acxiom makes available to advertisers." The company is also giving consumers a chance to opt out of the marketing data. But Acxiom, and let's face it, marketers, are hoping consumers will update these profiles so you stop getting tire coupons when you don't drive a car or quit getting reminders about diapers long after your children are potty trained.

"Consumers who actively participate in making sure this data is current will enrich their online experiences with better, more relevant offers and ads," says Acxiom, in a press release.

So I gave it a whirl. To register for AboutTheData.com, required fields included your date of birth, last four digits of your Social Security number, an email address and physical address.

Then, the data the company has about you is pulled up and broken down into six major categories: home, vehicle, economic, shopping, household interests (like whether you donate to political or charitable causes) and characteristic data (gender, ethnicity, children, etc.).

The shopping information is interesting, as it classifies the types of purchases you may have made — home furnishings, jewelry, and in my case, stationery. (If you check out the screengrab, "True" is data speak for yes, and the database indicates true for all the types of your recorded purchases.)

Acxiom's data actually undercounted my online shopping and underestimated our household income and number of credit cards. But the general characteristic profile knew my age, ethnicity, marital status, number of children in my home, and ... it gave me a promotion! Data show I went to graduate school, when I did not. I'm not going to correct my information since I always wanted an advanced degree.

Check it out for yourself and let us know what you think.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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