by Max Brantley
Here's the Sunday line. I'll close with something I just saw in belated reading of the NY Times:
Such large-scale data mining and analytics — based on information available in public records, consumer surveys and the like — are perfectly legal. Acxiom’s customers have included big banks like Wells Fargo and HSBC, investment services like E*Trade, automakers like Toyota and Ford, department stores like Macy’s — just about any major company looking for insight into its customers.
For Acxiom, based in Little Rock, the setup is lucrative. It posted profit of $77.26 million in its latest fiscal year, on sales of $1.13 billion.
But such profits carry a cost for consumers. Federal authorities say current laws may not be equipped to handle the rapid expansion of an industry whose players often collect and sell sensitive financial and health information yet are nearly invisible to the public. In essence, it’s as if the ore of our data-driven lives were being mined, refined and sold to the highest bidder, usually without our knowledge — by companies that most people rarely even know exist.
Julie Brill, a member of the Federal Trade Commission, says she would like data brokers in general to tell the public about the data they collect, how they collect it, whom they share it with and how it is used. “If someone is listed as diabetic or pregnant, what is happening with this information? Where is the information going?” she asks. “We need to figure out what the rules should be as a society.”
The article says the company is developing sophisticated new ways to use the information. It notes the company's recognition of privacy concerns, but says :
But, in interviews, security experts and consumer advocates paint a portrait of a company with practices that privilege corporate clients’ interests over those of consumers and contradict the company’s stance on transparency. Acxiom’s marketing materials, for example, promote a special security system for clients and associates to encrypt the data they send. Yet cybersecurity experts who examined Acxiom’s Web site for The Times found basic security lapses on an online form for consumers seeking access to their own profiles. (Acxiom says it has fixed the broken link that caused the problem.)