Scott Howe

CEO, president, Acxiom

Scott Howe
[Illustration by Mirko Ilic]

For letting consumers see their own data.


In 2011, Scott Howe took over one of the country’s most secretive and voracious data outfits and chose a new path, offering consumers more transparency and control. Its groundbreaking site, AboutTheData, launched last year. Here’s why:

Scott Howe

The Problem:

The more digital our lives become, the more marketing data we create–and that someone else collects. “People are getting increasingly anxious about that information and how it’s used,” says Howe. Not surprisingly, they often distrust companies like Acxiom, which spends billions each year on consumer info that it aggregates and sells to marketers.

The Epiphany:

Early on as CEO, Howe asked, “What information does the company have about me?” Unable to get a straight answer, he decided it needed a consumer portal– the industry’s first–that would offer a peek behind the curtain. “In the future, people will ­manage their data as easily as they service their car,” he says. “This is the first small step.”

The Execution:

Acxiom, a B-to-B company, struggled with creating a consumer site. AboutTheData had to present profiles clearly and explain the data sources. “Essentially, we wrote the site for my parents, who are in their seventies,” Howe says. He also started a blog about the project, humanizing the once-mysterious company.

The Result:

Initially, Acxiom’s board feared consumers would see what had been gathered on them and choose to opt out of Acxiom’s data collection. But only 2% of the nearly 630,000 registered users have done so. Meanwhile, 11% corrected their information, benefiting Acxiom and its clients. Traditionally, “our industry has been a one-way communication,” says Howe. “There has to be give-and-take.

About the author

Chuck Salter is a senior editor at Fast Company and a longtime award-winning feature writer for the magazine. In addition to his print, online and video stories, he performs live reported narratives at various conferences, and he edited the Fast Company anthologies Breakthrough Leadership, Hacking Hollywood, and #Unplug.