Interpublic Group duo sued in a case alleging ‘misappropriation’ of ID data

Two entities within Madison Avenue giant Interpublic Group have been named defendants in a court case in which plaintiff Adstra alleges that Kinesso and Acxiom conspired to develop a competing identity-resolution product unfairly.

The dispute centers around Acxiom and Kinesso’s alleged misconduct regarding a data licensing agreement and the misappropriation of Adstra’s trade secrets for unfair competition, citing multiple complaints over data licensing, including the unilateral alteration of agreements.

Neither of the IPG entities returned multiple emails from Digiday seeking comment on the complaint by press time.

Adstra alleges it entered into a master data supply agreement (MDSA) with Kinesso in March 2020, granting the IPG entity a license to use aspects of its data to develop identity resolution products for its customers but not for direct provision to third parties.

According to the April 8 filing in the U.S. District Court, Southern District Of New York, the IPG duo conspired to breach the MDSA as Acxiom purportedly used Adstra’s trade secrets to develop a competing product.

In particular, Adstra alleges that senior Acxiom leadership employed a charade of expedited payments to trick its own execs unless they had consented to the IPG unit’s “baseless demands.”

“Since LiveRamp’s divestiture of the Acxiom business line to IPG, it is well known that Acxiom has been attempting to build for itself an identity resolution product for omnichannel marketers, i.e., a product that would directly compete with Adstra’s product,” reads the filing.

The complaint later details how a March 2020 agreement between the plaintiff and Kinesso was worded “specifically to prevent Kinesso (or anyone else, including Acxiom) from building any product that competed with the products offered for sale by Adstra.”

According to the filing, legal arrangements between the concerned parties were later updated, “allowing Acxiom to assist Kinesso in its use of the [Adstra] ALC data” in October 2021.

“The Data Processor Agreement further provided that ‘Processor [Acxiom] will not duplicate or compile any data or provide the same in any form to any third party,’ read terms of the agreement cited by Adstra.  

“Adstra was not interested in allowing for an assignment of the MDSA from Kinesso to Acxiom because Acxiom is, and was at the time, Adstra’s competitor”
Adstra legal filing

However, on separate occasions in 2022 and 2023, Acxiom execs later pushed to effectively see the MDSA terms transferred from Kinesso to its IPG stablemate, terms that Adstra refused, the allegations read.

According to the complaint, “Adstra, however, was not interested in allowing for an assignment of the MDSA from Kinesso to Acxiom because Acxiom is, and was at the time, Adstra’s competitor, and allowing Acxiom access… would have had severe negative consequences.”

However, in November, the plaintiff received a letter from Acxiom execs attempting to terminate the MDSA agreement, a development the plaintiff described as “troubling and puzzling” since it hadn’t consented to its transfer, according to the filing.

“Acxiom apparently believed that if the MDSA was assigned to it, it could access the data it so desperately wanted—Adstra’s ALC Data—and then avoid payment obligations to Adstra by providing notice of termination of the agreement the very next day,” it reads. 

It goes on to allege that IPG is using Adstra’s data to try to gain an unfair competitive advantage in the ever-crucial audience-targeting space and that it “has reason to believe that Acxiom is using it in one of its existing product [sic] and/or to build a product that directly competes with Adstra in the omnichannel marketing space.” 

Adstra seeks injunctive relief to prevent the defendants from using the disputed data and to compel the return or destruction of said data, according to the filing. Additionally, Adstra demands compensatory and statutory damages, attorneys’ fees, costs, and any other relief deemed just and equitable by the court.

There’s history with the leadership at Adstra and Acxiom, and the timing of the complaint’s lodging and when IPG first acquired Acxiom is notable.

Adstra CEO Rick Erwin worked at Acxiom until October 2018, the same time that IPG purchased the data giant — thus separating it from data onboarding outfit LiveRamp — for $2.3 billion. 

Meanwhile, former Acxiom CEO Chad Engelgau, who left the company in January 2024, had worked closely with Erwin in his first stint at Acxiom — until he was named global chief data strategist and head of client management at Kinesso in early 2019. In early 2020, Engelgau took over as Acxiom’s CEO.

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