Yesterday Axciom, a large data broker, rolled out their data transparency site, aboutthedata.com. The sites lets you view some data that Axciom has about you, including demographic data, family status, financials, commercial history, and shopping preferences.
Several people have asked how they should approach the site. Should they look? Should they correct errors? My thoughts are below.
First, though, I should report on what I found when I inspected my own data. They had the basic demographic information about me pretty much correct. The information on my family’s finances was partially correct. The information on our shopping preferences was the least accurate, reflecting more or less what one would guess for the household of a person with my demographics and (purported) financial position. For example, you don’t have to be a genius to guess that a household containing a person my age buys “health and beauty” products from time to time.
One thing that jumped out was their belief that our household is interested in “orthopedic-related products”. They claim to know this because of “surveys”. It’s very unlikely that any member of my household has revealed an interest in this sort of medical-related product in response to any survey. I suspect that they learned this purported fact about my household by other means. Or maybe they got bogus survey data.
But enough about me. Let’s talk about whether it’s a good idea to correct errors in the data.
For starters, you don’t have any obligation to help Axciom get more accurate information about you. If you see an error and choose not to correct it, you are not in a state of sin.
That said, you might benefit from correcting certain types of errors, for example to remove incorrect information that is embarrassing or tends to lead to unwanted commercial offers. Certainly, any errors that tend to show you in a bad light should probably be corrected.
Still, not having been born yesterday, I recognize that some people will provide false “corrections.” If this is widespread, it could jeopardize the commercial value of Axciom’s database. After all, the value of the database is diminished if the contents are inaccurate.
Axciom could try to fight false corrections by using some kind of big-dataish algorithm to reject suspicious-looking corrections. Essentially, they would have some kind of model of which kinds of household data configurations are plausible, and they would reject corrections that are implausible according to their model. I can’t find anything in the site information that says that Axciom might ignore the corrections you submit—indeed, one of their main pitches for the site is that you can correct the data.
But actually, they don’t quite say that you can “correct” the data. What they say is that you can “edit” the data. Which makes one suspect that they retain the original data, and just add a notation that you edited the data to say something else, at a particular date and time. Close reading of the site suggests that this might be the case—in particular, explanatory text on the categories page says that “Changes will be kept for 24 months from date of change” which suggests that changes are stored separately from the original data such that the changes can somehow be rolled back or removed from your record later.
I’m curious what your experiences are with the site. How accurate is their data? What happens when you submit a correction/edit?