Stacey Vanek Smith, this is your data profile

Marketplace's Stacey Vanek Smith.

You could say this has been the summer of surveillance.

A lot of facts came to light about how the government is tracking us.

But this week, consumers can start to get a window into how marketers and retailers are tracking us. One of the largest data mining companies in the world, Acxiom, has just introduced a new website that will show people some of the details the company has collected on them. The site is called Aboutthedata.com and it includes information like marital status, education and income.

Back in 2010, Stacey Vanek Smith got her data mined. Has the industry evolved?

One big change is the dramatic rise of data-profiling companies.

"They’re sending us information like: This is this person’s title and this is this person’s company name," says Russell Glass, the CEO of Bizo , a data profiling company that helps clients like American Express, Mercedes and IBM reach business professionals, "and whether they’re going to business sites or they’re going to social media like Facebook or LinkedIn."

For Stacey's data profile, she turned to Stephen Cobb. Cobb's a data researcher with ESET an online security company.

Using just her name, Cobb set off on a kind of data scavenger hunt … to build a profile.

"I know when your birthday is, so I know you're 30-something," he told Stacey. "I had the building you’re in the unit that you’re in ... Then I looked into what you do online."

Cobb says most of us use the same username for all of our online accounts. Once he figured out Stacey's, he quickly found online hangouts, like Twitter, eBay and LinkedIn.

"You do have this very strong interest in movies and TV," says Cobb. "That was shown by the multiple services you’ve subscribed to, which I think it all the main TV and streaming video sites."

And it got creepier. Cobb was able to develop "a detailed map of who your friends are that you hang out with more often ... I know you like eating at the In-N-Out Burger you like Imogen Heap."

That information did not come up in 2010. But there’s a lot more data out there now and data profilers can now cross reference their data with data from other profilers, like Acxiom, one of the giants. Acxiom has slotted us all into one of 70 consumer groups -- Stacey is classified as a 'Middling Single.'

Cobb says Middling Singles are characterized by being "Markedly single, childless and urban...As residents of the nation’s biggest cities, this group enjoys a rich cultural existence. And you mix an extensive amount of travel, museum visits and the arts with bar hopping and dancing.

Data profiling is already a $30 billion-a-year business and it's growing fast.

Consumer Profiler

What's your household's consumer profile?
Every time you swipe a rewards card at the grocery store, or “like” your favorite brand on Facebook, that data goes somewhere to get analyzed. The Marketplace Consumer Profiler lets you look up your lifestyle category using information and research from the mapping and data analyst company ESRI. Try it now!

About the author

Stacey Vanek Smith is a senior reporter for Marketplace, where she covers banking, consumer finance, housing and advertising.
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That "Consumer Profiler" isn't worth the electrons that make it up.

It can't even "predict" the demographic info I entered in the Profiler-- none of the profile choices it gave me were right. I said I was "50 and up", "married", with kids, lived in a city-- my "profiles" said I was anywhere from mid 20s to late 40s, possibly single, no kids, and only one of 5 profiles acknowledged I live in a city. The interests and activities it predicts are not even close.

I tried the aboutthedata.com website and after some hesitating for a while entered my personal information to discover that the only information that website has about me is the information I just entered. Has anyone else tried this website?

I hesitate about introducing my information in any website specialized in tracking you because if they had you out-of-the-radar, now they have you "in."

You don't need a specialized data mining place to know how much of you is exposed. Google does a great job about showing you your "exposure" as well as knowing how many other people share your information. But always be wary of what you type for a search because it could always be used to add to your data, or the data about you.


They know you much better than this silly thing. The users of data science actually know you as an individual, not as a member of some group. As you can see above, while your group membership can tell a lot about you, it can also be wacko. I shop at Amazon a lot and they do know me. They know the kind of books i like, my musical taste, that I am an amateur chef and that I am into horses.

Even data science can be misleading. Google adsense serves me up many ads for Nasty Gal and Dolls Kill, both retailers that target hip young women, Why me, I often click through because both are places I am likely to see pictures of my darling daughter. I also get ads for horse products and guitars. Those are right on.

I started to check out the site to see what they had one me. Then I decided it was a great way to help a data mining operation fill in the blanks and connect the dots on any data they have for me. It's probably a day late and a dollar short but I don't want to make it any easier for them. I'll just have to live with my curiosity.

You live up to the term: older and wiser. You average in your 70s, you own your home and are living the small town sweet life. Finances are a little tight, but you're secure. You've also got your community around you. You're very social and you like to golf, go to the theater and eat out. You're in social clubs as well.
You're also a bona-fide health nut and spend a lot of money on vitamins and health-foods (we won't tell about your Oreo stash). You like traveling in the US and overseas… and you especially like cruises (all the Oreos you can eat!)

Where you Live: small town
I livr in El Cerrito, CA about a mile from Berkeley. Walk to BART, in downtown SF in 30 minutes

What you Do:
golf, never
gamble, never
travel, do but hate it. Never been on a cruise and find the idea repellant.
theater, yes
social clubs, are Horse clubs “social clubs”? I am on the board of one and a member of another.
figure skating clubs? I am Webmaster for The Skating Club of San Francisco, but don't skate and haven't since the early 50s.

Where you Shop/What you buy:
Wal-Mart, Never
Target, Occasionally buy jeans there
J.C.Penney, Never
drugs, I'm 76, of course i buy drugs
vitamins, Never. I believe “vitamin pills” are useless or bad for you.
health foods, Never

What You Watch/Listen To:
TV news, Never, do listen to NPR, etc.
TV movies, Never, sometimes watch ads on YouTube.
game shows, Never
sports, Never

What you read:
newspaper, Never, google news
mysteries, occasionally but am finishing This Town, previous book was High Price, before that We Meant Well & Rise of the Warrior Cop, quit on Government of Wolves, too redundant.

I am an empty-nester (that is an easy guess), my daughter, now 18 lives in LA and moved into SF when she was 16. She is model and needed to be in the city and out of the burbs.

The Money Situation: Solid nest egg, mortgage, annuities, money-markets. You're set! Soon be broke if we don't find another source of income.

Google adsense and Amazon would have done much better.

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