Major data broker Acxiom backs Tim Cook's call for data privacy regulations

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Responding to Apple CEO Tim Cook's crusade for strict data privacy regulations in the U.S., Acxiom, a premiere data broker, said it supports a unified set of laws governing data sharing practices while at the same time denying it is part of a so-called "shadow economy."

In a statement to Business Insider, Acxiom said it agrees with Cook's call for U.S. lawmakers to adopt legislation designed to "protect and empower the consumer." While short on details, Cook in an essay published in Time on Thursday referenced a package of laws and reforms that smacks of the EU's GDPR.

Specifically, the Apple chief singled out data brokers, or companies that collect, compile and sell user data from retailers and other online entities. This information, typically harvested without a user's knowledge, is subsequently used for ad targeting or more nefarious purposes like influencing public sentiment.

"Right now, all of these secondary markets for your information exist in a shadow economy that's largely unchecked — out of sight of consumers, regulators, and lawmakers," Cook wrote.

Surprisingly, Acxiom can count itself among the firms that Cook railed against in his op-ed. The company ranks among the largest data brokers in the world, competing with the likes of Experian and Oracle.

"Acxiom, like Mr. Cook, also supports a national privacy law for the US, such as GDPR provides for the European Union," the company said. "Acxiom is actively participating in discussions with US lawmakers as well as industry trade groups to help ensure U.S. consumers receive the kind of transparency, access and control Acxiom has been providing voluntarily for years."

The company went on to float the idea of collaborating with industry leaders like Apple to propose to the government a set of laws that "maintain the benefits of data in our economy while giving the necessary protections and rights to all people."

These regulations, Acxiom said, must be accomplished at the federal level, as dealing with multiple, independent state laws would be "punitive and detrimental" to the economy.

Acxiom in its statement was quick to distance itself from the bad actors to which Cook consistently alludes when discussing data collection practices. Previously, the Apple chief limited his ire to collection efforts undertaken by tech companies like Google and Facebook, but in Thursday's op-ed widened that net to include data brokers.

"We agree that we must root out the nefarious players in the ecosystem, and Acxiom's data privacy impact assessment (DPIA) process ensures we don't do business with questionable companies," the company said.

Acxiom said it "has led the conversation around the ethical use of data and technology," noting compliance with a range of international laws and regulations including FCRA, HIPPA and the GDPR. Indeed, the firm maintains a comprehensive webpage dedicated to its privacy policies and initiatives.

Whether the U.S. government will heed Cook's, and now Acxiom's, call to action remains to be seen.


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