The company fits into a category called database marketing. It started in 1969 as an outfit called Demographics Inc., using phone books and other notably low-tech tools, as well as one computer, to amass information on voters and consumers for direct marketing. Almost 40 years later, Acxiom has detailed entries for more than 190 million people and 126 million households in the U.S., and about 500 million active consumers worldwide. More than 23,000 servers in Conway, just north of Little Rock, collect and analyze more than 50 trillion data ‘transactions’ a year. “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,” says The Times‘ Singer.
“If you are an American adult,” says Singer, “the odds are that it knows things like your age, race, sex, weight, height, marital status, education level, politics, buying habits, household health worries, vacation dreams — and on and on.” It does more than collect that information, though. It uses it to pigeonhole people into one of 70 very specific socioeconomic clusters in an attempt to predict how they’ll act, what they’ll buy, and how companies can persuade them to buy their products. It gathers its data trove from public records, surveys you’ve filled out, your online behavior, and other disparate sources of information, then sells it to banks, retailers, and other buyers.