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Musterlösung 2013: Textverständnis und Textanalyse: Sachtext “You for Sale: Mapping, and Sharing, the Consumer Genome” by N. Singer


Answer the following questions using your own words as far as is appropriate. Quote correctly.

  1. Describe in detail what Acxiom is and what it does. (20)
  2. Sum up the criticism voiced by security experts and consumer advocates. How does Acxiom react to it? (10)
  3. What is the writer’s attitude towards Acxiom? Analyse four examples of how she uses language to get her point across.  (20)


Question 1

Acxiom is an American company that operates in the field of database marketing. Although it is one of the “giant[s]” (l.9) in the business, Acxiom is not well known to the public (“rarely makes headlines”, l.8).

The company collects personal information on consumers, such as age, sex, social and political background, habits and preferences. The detailed data is then sold on to companies which use it to make personal offers to individual consumers.

To get its detailed information, Acxiom accesses different sources, which include “public records, consumer surveys, and the like” (ll.11-12). Moreover, it analyses people’s behaviour on- and offline as well as the data their mobile phones create: when browsing certain websites, people leave traces that provide valuable information regarding their shopping habits.

This “multichannel approach” (l.35) allows the company to create a comprehensive picture of consumers (“360-degree-view”, l.30). What is more, Acxiom has its own classification system called PersonicX, which processes the information and puts consumers into different categories (“70 detailed socioeconomic clusters”, ll.45-46).

These practices allow companies to target consumers with “tailored marketing” (l.42).

Question 2

Acxiom is criticised by consumer advocates and security experts for different reasons.

To begin with, experts criticise the company’s lack of transparency: Acxiom does not tell the public what kind of data is collected, how it is collected or what happens with it. Likewise, consumers do not have any insights into the data the company holds about them, nor can they “correct personal details” (l.62). The techniques used to gather consumer information also suggest that the interests of huge companies are more important to Acxiom than consumer privacy.

Moreover, privacy advocates criticise the ranking systems created by data brokers. People classified as “low-value” prospects or “waste” (ll.53-54) are considered unworthy of receiving certain offers and thus might be excluded from “promotions for higher education or health services” (ll.57-58). Privacy advocates are worried about the consequences that this could have.

After executives declined an interview, Acxiom reacts to the criticism by agreeing that transparency is “not an unreasonable request” (ll.19-20). In fact, the company advertises itself as “a global thought leader” (l.22) when it comes to consumer privacy and public trust.

This view, however, is not shared by security experts and consumer advocates.

Question 3

Natasha Singer is very critical of Acxiom and doubts its methods as well as its claim that it respects people’s privacy. She wants the readers to become aware of the consequences of their online behaviour and the impact database marketing has on consumer privacy.

There are numerous examples of how she uses language that show her critical attitude.

To begin with, the anaphora (“It knows”, l.1) and the parallelism in the first three sentences create a gloomy atmosphere and foreshadow a potential threat. This danger is stressed by the enumeration (ll.4-5) of the knowledge the company has about you and your life. The author only mentions Acxiom in line 8. Thus, the use of the personal pronoun “it” in the first paragraph creates a dubious feeling, as the reader does not know what “it” is. This feeling is intensified by the fact that “it” knows everything about the reader.

By comparing Acxiom to the FBI, the IRS, Google and Facebook (ll.2-3), Singer stresses the danger emanating from a company that operates in the background and intrudes on people’s privacy without them even realizing it.

In general, the vocabulary Singer uses often alludes to negative or threatening ideas, such as the metaphors “prying digital eyes” (l.2), “quiet giant” (l.8) or “waste” (l.54). The neologism “cyberazzi” (l.63), combining the prefix “cyber-“ with “paparazzi” draws a drastic picture of data brokers and their refined techniques of data mining.

The frequent reference to experts (cf. ll.13-15, ll.24-26, l.51f, l.61f) underlines the sceptical tone that dominates the entire article.

To sum up, the language Singer uses stresses her negative opinion of Acxiom and database marketing.

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