Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

The Data Brokers

Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes reported on data brokers like Acxiom and Epsilon. Nobody at Acxiom would talk to him for the report, but Epsilon did, and it’s a load of horse shit:

Bryan Kennedy is chairman and CEO of Epsilon, which claim to have “the world’s largest cooperative database” including more than 8 billion consumer transactions, combined with an extensive network of online sources. He doesn’t like the term “data broker,” and says Epsilon is a marketing firm that uses data.

Steve Kroft: Can I go on your website and see everything you have about me?

Bryan Kennedy: You can go on our website today and we offer a method by which we can show you the kind of information that we have about you.

Indeed, they do. The process requires you to fill in a form and mail it with a blank, void cheque for verification, requiring a separate form for each name combination you may have (for example, if you go by your maiden name and your marital name separately).

There is no way to do this via the internet because Epsilon believes that “more consumers will have an opportunity to make a/this Marketing Data Summary request”, which is a crock of shit.

Steve Kroft: You’re saying that any kind of regulation on this could cripple the economy?

Bryan Kennedy: I am.

Steve Kroft: And this should be left to industry groups? To self-enforce?

Bryan Kennedy: We think that self-regulation has been very effective. What we’re hearing today is a lot of discussion in Washington. We’re not hearing a lot of discussion, frankly, from consumers. It’s one of the odd things. So, consumers are rushing to the Internet to provide more information about themselves than, you know, we would’ve ever imagined.

Steve Kroft: That surprise you?

Bryan Kennedy: It does surprise me. I don’t do it myself. I’m a consumer, like, like you are.

This is the crucial point of Kroft and Kennedy’s exchange because it’s the most revealing about Kennedy’s habits and what he thinks of his own industry. Kennedy himself points out that more people are handing over more information than ever. Let’s assume Kennedy is of average suspicion of corporate interests — a charitable assumption, I think, given his attitude towards self-regulation. As the CEO of a data brokerage firm, he’s fully aware of the ways his data is being used and has taken steps to limit it. Does he really think consumers are cognizant of how much of their information is being collected and how it is being used?

Meanwhile, self-regulation doesn’t work in cases where it is against the interests of the industry. The less aware consumers are of how their information is being used, the more information they’ll willingly provide and the better the industry will do. Conversely, if consumers were made more aware of how much information is being collected and how it is used, the industry would suffer.

Of course, Kennedy couldn’t really say any of this. Epsilon is part of the crazy huge Alliance Data company, and is publicly traded. Admitting that the industry needs regulation would send the stock tanking. Yet, for all of the flack 60 Minutes deservedly received for their atrocious NSA/Snowden story, this marks a significant improvement for them. Hopefully, this report will make consumers more aware of this industry.