Personal data

A recent Reuters article by Tom Bergin takes a look at what data mining companies may or may not know about particular individuals in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica story. Bergin uses his own data in an intensely un-scientific, yet interesting investigation.

First of all, Bergin is not from the U.S. As a citizen of the European Union, he enjoys certain privacy protections that we do not have here in the States. The EU regulations allow any European who asks to see what sort of information data gatherers have collected on them—in other words, they can see what data collectors are selling to third parties.

So what did Bergin find? He found that there were some drastic inaccuracies and also some eerie near guestimates.

Bergin contacted Arkansas-based Acxiom for his N of 1 study. It is an $800 million company that sells data to some of the world’s largest companies. It has data on 47 million Brits (Bergin’s from the UK), so none of what follows pretends to be anything more than anecdotal, but it is interesting nonetheless.

Labeled an “affluent fun seeker,” the profile got everything but a few key points—like salary and how much he used his car—more or less wrong.

“To start with, I’m 46 years old, not 57. I won’t reveal my wife’s age, but I will confirm that when I got married at age 34, it wasn’t to a teenager. Two children mean we’re not “empty nesters,” I drive a diesel car and our boiler is more than 15 years old, not less than five years as Acxiom identifies it as. […] [I]f purchase decisions are driven by lifestyle interests, the data collected on me is of little use to marketers.”

See why his data was more or less useless here.