on the topic of the GUID that is you, part 3

we’re discussing big-data collection as prompted by a recently released federal trade commission report; see parts 1 and parts 2 for background and an example of data collected on me from a recent shopping trip.

so where does the data go once it’s been collected? avoiding the technical — and i’d bore the hell out of you if i went all pedantic (you may be bored already) — lets skip the middlemen. your data ends up at some broker or aggregator, mixed with everyone else’s data.

stay with the class here, i’m going to bring this full-circle.

Acxiom is one such broker and one of the 9 brokers subpoenaed by the FTC to understand what these companies do. the report will tell you who the other 8 are.

acxiom’s website moniker is written in dot-com speak: “Audience Operating System, Data and Decision Sciences – Acxiom.” if we check our cynicism and skepticism at the door, acxiom appears to take an interest in helping you and i understand and control what they are collecting.

-Ism’s in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself. -ferris bueller

they maintain another website dedicated to this purpose: AboutTheData.com. i highly recommend you check this site out because this is what you’ll see.



6 data categories that comprise who we are

characteristic data — d.o.b., gender, ethnicity, education, and marital status are just a few of the elements. this is me below. i’ve obfuscated my d.o.b. because 1) this data is one-third of what anyone needs to pretend they’re me; and, 2) i’d rather you not send me birthday presents:


characteristic data elements

how do they know all this about me? on the actual site, hover over the question mark such as i did below. my wife says i’m lucky-to-be-married but acxiom says i’m inferred-married


Inferred Married – The marital status of Married or Single cannot be determined from a source and there are 2 names in a household with gender of Male and Female, within a certain age range of each other.

interesting. so in my past, i’ve purchased things, i might have completed a survey or a form, and somewhere my marriage license (with no corresponding divorce decree or death cert) is on file with a county/state. acxiom has inferred my marital status through an analytic by looking at these and other attributes of those inside my home.

the method of looking at lots-o-data and folding it, spindling it, mutilating it… transforming it, falls under the heading of data analytics. it’s very cool stuff and, while not rocket science, it does require some skill, a bit of capital investment and a lot of creativity.

the other categories from AboutTheData include these below; i’ll spare you more screen-shots and invite you to go look for yourselves:

  • home data — “…information about your home (primarily from publicly available property transaction records)”
  • vehicle data — “…information about vehicles in your household such as make and model, […] and auto-insurance renewal date.” acxiom gets it from warranty and service records.
  • economic data — “…data does not come from credit card companies, banks or other financial institutions.”
  • purchase data — “…snapshot of information about online and offline purchases associated with a household from a sampling of retailers.”
  • household interests — “…information about the interests and hobbies of a member of your household such as gardening, traveling, sports, etc.”

i’ve looked at my profile (the GUID that is me) and thought about editing some of it — AboutTheData allows you to do this and even opt out — but i decided to leave it as is. my reasoning is two-fold: 1) the concept of privacy is a myth. what i do, what i like, what i buy… someone always knows. 2) i think acxiom is reasonably responsible with what they have; and, 3) i ignore all forms of advertising anyway.

there are 3 types of people in the world: those who are good at math and those who aren’t. ~anon

wired homes, however, pose a unique threat along with their opportunities. next time i’ll show you, using the same principles as inferring marital status above, how i can create a data model that would tell me exactly what you are doing inside your home.

see you then.



this is part 3 of a multi-part series:

  • part 1:  go here
  • part 2:  go here
  • part 3:  this post
  • part 4:  discuss home energy management data and talk about data ownership
  • part 5:  how to curtail what’s known about you




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