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Friday, May 30, 2008


Junk mail data broker, Acxiom, has just announced that it will introduce a new service, FactCheck-X Authenticate, to business clients based on unique biographically based questions asked of online customers that are designed to qualify them with the company they are contacting. This could be logging into your stock portfolio, accessing your bank statements, or perhaps even looking at your medical records. In an article on, “businesses are more secure and customers can experience a better online authentication experience.” I doubt the latter, and here’s the reason why.

In 2005—and if anyone finds a later report please let me know—the non-profit Privacy Activism did a study to determine the accuracy of biographical information in two major data brokers, Acxiom and ChoicePoint. Acxiom’s authentication, above, is based on biographical data. It was discovered that even in the most basic information like name, address, phone number, Social Security number, errors were found in 67 percent of Acxiom’s reports. If this has been corrected, I welcome factual substantiation that it has. provides insight into some of those biographical questions inquiring consumer minds might be faced with.

• In what subdivision do you live?

• Where does your brother Mike live?

• Select a state which you were previously licensed to drive.

• How many fireplaces are in your current residence?

OK, what if both Mike and I just moved? Will Acxiom allow for this mistake, and then ask where the former residences were? The fact that they are asking anything about my driver’s license bothers me, but I guess telling them about my fireplace won’t hurt.

Jennifer Barrett, Acxiom’s chief privacy officer, won’t reveal specific sources of your biographical data, but adds that it did come from “public document files and private sources.” She also cites the Patriot Act as a crutch for doing this, which immediately throws up warning flags and reminders of NSA’s warrantless spying. Lee Tien of non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation sees no advantage to the service. Others can find out many of these facts about you, and her opinion is that a random, newly assigned PIN would be safer.

I did a post in February of this year where it is shown how your name and personal information are eternalized—similar to your name and date of passing on your tombstone—in data broker databanks across this country and throughout the world. The major companies responsible for collecting your private information and archiving it forever are Experian, TransUnion, Equafax, ChoicePoint, and of course Acxiom. The first three are also credit bureaus, holding your most precious credit data as well.

In March of 2007, another post was done on Acxiom’s new connection to May Company stores, which were eventually converted to Macy’s. Acxiom was enhancing the Macy’s list—including Bloomingdale’s, also a part of Federated Stores—with customer personal data, among which is your age, income, plus a number of other demographic characteristics, then purchase and lifestyle behavior like health interests, religion, credit cards held, politics, cell phone owners, investments, reading and vacation habits, and wine drinkers. If you are a Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s card holder—there are over 3.6 million—go to this site to see what all they know about you.

So the next time you shop at Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s online, they might ask you if you have arthritis, or if you like baseball, if you are on a diet, what shape your houseplants are in, or how was your recent skiing trip? If you can’t answer the questions, don’t be surprised if they hesitate to sell you a collar for your cat, which they already know you own.

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