Acxiom chief says he favors stronger privacy laws

LITTLE ROCK — It may sound contradictory, but the head of a Little Rock company that gathers and sells consumer data says he supports stronger laws to protect consumers’ privacy.

Acxiom CEO Scott Howe has said in recent speeches and interviews that the company supports new government regulation of data brokers to protect consumer data if the regulation addresses specific concerns, not vague concepts, according to reporting by Talk Business.

His comments come while Acxiom and other similar companies are under scrutiny by the Senate Commerce Committee, chaired by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va. Rockefeller has been holding hearings for more than a year on the practices of data brokers like Acxiom, Epsilon and Experian.

Acxiom also was mentioned in a recent “60 Minutes” news report in which some voiced concerns about the amount and detail of data that can be collected from the public through websites and other outlets.

“In every interview I have done in the last year — when I talk to ’60 Minutes,’ when I talk to CNN, when I talk to the New York Times, when I talk to the Wall Street Journal, when I talk to Sen. Rockefeller — I always say the same thing, which is: you might be surprised to learn that Acxiom is in favor of much stronger privacy regulation. And we are,” Howe said in a recent talk to the Delta Trust and Bank 2014 Investment Outlook in Little Rock.

But Howe has also said that current drafts of privacy regulation laws would be worse than the complications of the health care overhaul.

Howe told the Delta Trust audience he believes there are five areas where there is room for meaningful reforms to weed out bad players in the data mining industry and ensure protections for consumers. He said consumers should have a “bill of rights” that includes:

—Disclosure of the data being collected about them.

—Limiting data use to marketing only.

—Restricting use of sensitive data.

—Enforcement of security and data breaches.

—Transparency and choice for consumers.

Howe also he believes most consumers are willing to let their data be collected if they get something in return for it.

“(Consumers say) I will share my information with you if in fact I get money for it, if in fact I get better offers for it, if in fact I have better interactions with companies I love,” he said.

Video of Howe’s talk to the Delta Trust group is available on Talk Business’ website.