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DMA Provides Clarity in Sea of Misunderstanding


Post Date: April 10, 2014
By: Linda Woolley

In two recently published  articles — the first by the Los Angeles Times, entitled Data compilers’ secret scores have consumers pegged — fairly or not, the second by CNBC, entitled Big data knows you’re pregnant (and that’s not all) — DMA provided industry perspective about responsible data-driven practices in what otherwise seems sea of unwarranted fear and misunderstanding.

The Los Angeles Times article begins with these alarming lines:

“Consumers won access to their credit scores more than a decade ago, after advocates voiced concerns over errors and lending bias. But most people remain in the dark about hundreds of other data-collection programs still being used to size up consumers and market to them. The secret scores and data are used by employers, utilities, banks, healthcare providers, debt collectors and a host of other enterprises.”

Later in the article, the author makes mention of data’s value to the economy, as evidenced in the recent DDMI “Value of Data” study:

The Direct Marketing Association, a trade group for data brokers, has calculated that the industry generates $156 billion in annual revenue, 70% of it involving companies sharing their records on consumers and groups of individuals with other enterprises. The brokers’ computer programs, which crunch data from public records and private databases, can involve hundreds and even thousands of factors, experts say, acknowledging that the complexities can appear threatening.

“We realize we have to act responsibly to have consumers’ trust,” said Rachel Thomas, a Direct Marketing Assn. spokeswoman.

But consumers have little cause for worry, she said.

“In marketing analytics, the worst thing that can happen is a prediction is wrong and the consumer gets an offer for something they’re not interested in,” Thomas said. “We work hard to make sure the information is only used for marketing purposes.”

The CNBC article also starts out with a fear-mongering tone:

“Your life is an open book.  Unless you live off the grid, big data companies know all about you. They constantly collect information about the things you buy and the websites you visit, plus thousands of other bits of personal information gathered from public records and your social media activity.”

Finally, toward the end of the article, this tone is balanced by DMA’s Rachel Thomas and Acxiom’s  Jennifer Barrett Glasgow:

“Marketers want the most accurate information possible,” said Rachel Nyswander Thomas, executive director of the Direct Marketing Association’s Data-Driven Marketing Institute. “But at the end of the day, if the data is wrong and the predictive analytics is wrong, the worst thing that can happen to a consumer is that the ad or offer they get is not relevant.”

Thomas stressed that the Direct Marketing Association’s code of conduct does not allow any marketing that is disparaging or discriminatory in any way.

 Jennifer Barrett Glasgow, chief privacy officer at Acxiom, one of the country’s biggest data brokers, explained that a marketing score really isn’t all that personal.

“It’s a mathematical computation that puts a group of individuals into a defined audience for a marketing campaign,” she said. “And these scores aren’t static in the same way that credit scores are. Their lifespan may be milliseconds.”

DMA spends a lot of time with journalists and bloggers to set the record straight on responsible marketing practices and the commitment ethical marketers make to protecting consumer data and earning customer trust.   It’s important for all of us – and especially your trade association – to continue its work to promote clarity and understanding about responsible data-driven marketing  practices — providing  self-regulatory guidelines for its members – and protecting driven marketers and our data-driven way of life in Washington, across the States, and around the globe.

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