The Multi-Billion Dollar Industry That Makes Its Living From Your Data
In the ocean ecosystem, plankton is the raw material that fuels an entire food chain. These tiny organisms on their own aren’t that remarkable, but en masse, they have a huge impact on the world.
Here on dry land, the massive volume of content and meta data we produce fuels a marketing research industry that is worth nearly $50 billion. Every instant message, page click, and step you take now produces a data point that can be used to build a detailed profile of who you are.
Every breath you take, Every move you make
The coarse-grained demographics and contact information of yesteryear seems quaint compared to today’s sophisticated data collection battleground. In the past, marketers would make judgement calls on your likely income and family structure based on where you lived, and you’d receive “targeted” mail and calls from telemarketers. Loyalty programs and the emergence of web analytics pushed things a little further.
Today, the steady march of technological advancement has created a vast data collection empire that measures every aspect of your digital life and, increasingly, your offline life as well. Facebook alone uses nearly one hundred data points to target ads to you – everything from your marital status to whether you’ve been on vacation lately or not. Telecoms have access to extremely detailed information on your location. Apple has biometric data.
Also watching your every move are web trackers. “Cookie-syncing” is one of the sneaky ways advertisers can follow you around the internet. Basically, cookie-syncing allows third parties to share browsing information at such a large scale that even the NSA “piggybacks” off them for surveillance purposes.
The recent sales growth of smart speakers will only increase the breadth of data companies collect and analyze. Amazon and Google have both filed patents for technology that would essentially allow them to mine audio recordings for keywords. Advertisers could potentially target you with diapers before your family and friends even know you’re expecting a baby.
Following the ones and zeros
While web trackers and companies like Apple and Google are collecting a lot of personal and behavioral data, it’s the whales of the data ecosystem – data brokers – who are creating increasingly detailed profiles on almost everyone.
Data brokers trade on the privacy of consumers and operate in the shadows.
– Senator Al Franken (D-Minn)
The goal of data brokers, such as Experian or Acxiom, is to siphon up as much personal data as possible and apply it to profiles. This data comes from a wide variety of sources. Your purchases, financial history, internet activity, and even psychographic attributes are mixed with information from public records to create a robust dossier. Digital profiles are then sorted into one of thousands of categories to help optimize advertising efforts.
Fear the shadow profile?
According to Pew Research, 91% of Americans “agree” or “strongly agree” that people have lost control over how personal information is collected and used.
Though optimizing clickthroughs is a big business, companies are increasingly moving beyond advertising to extract value from their growing data pipeline. Amalgamated data is increasingly being viewed as a clever way to assess risk in the decision-making process (e.g. hiring, insurance, loan or housing applications), and the stakes for consumers are going up in the process.
For example, a man may feel comfortable sharing their HIV status on Grindr (for practical reasons), but may not want that information going to a third party. (Unfortunately, that really happened.)
In 2015, Facebook filed a patent for a service that would help insurance companies vet people based on the credit ratings of their social network.
The More You Know
Below the surface of our screens, our digital profiles continue to take shape.
Measures like adjusting website privacy controls and clearing cookies are a good start, but that’s only a fraction of the data companies are collecting. Not only do data brokers make it hard to officially opt out, their partnerships with corporations and advanced data collection methods cast such a wide net, that it’s almost impossible to exclude individual people.
Data brokers have operated with very little scrutiny or oversight, but that may be changing. Under intense public and governmental pressure, Facebook recently cut ties with data brokers. For a company that has bullishly pursued monetization of user data at every turn, the move is a sign that the public sentiment is changing.
The more information on the personal data industry, visit Cracked Labs’ report on the issue.
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Ranked: The Best-Selling Video Game Consoles of All Time
Video game consoles have changed drastically over the last 50 years. Here are some of the best-selling ones across the globe.
Ranked: The Best-Selling Video Game Consoles of All Time
In 1972, the first-ever commercially available home video game console hit the market—the Magnavox Odyssey. Players of the Odyssey had a choice between two built-in games that were stored directly in the device, and would use a joystick and dials as a controller.
Video game consoles have come a long way since then, and the console market has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry that’s expected to reach $72.67 billion in value by the end of 2022.
This graphic by Enrique Mendoza uses data from VGChartz to show the market leaders in the industry, by highlighting the top-selling video consoles of all time, as of May 8, 2022.
Nine Generations of Video Game Consoles
Before diving into the top-selling consoles, it’s worth taking a step back to touch on the evolution of home consoles to show how they’ve changed over the years.
Here’s a breakdown of each generation, and some of their most noteworthy systems:
1972: Gen One, Where it Began
Consoles in the first generation had pre-built games that were stored directly on the device. They include the Magnavox Odyssey and Atari’s Pong.
1976: Gen Two Emerges
In this generation, games were sold separately, rather than programmed into the device. Consoles of this gen include the Fairchild Channel F and the Atari 2600.
1983: Gen Three, the “8-bit Generation”
This era’s consoles typically had 8-bit processes which allowed for more advanced graphics for the time. A few notable consoles during this gen were the Sega SG-1000 and the Nintendo Famicom, released outside Japan as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).
1987: Gen Four Elevates Handheld Gaming
Home consoles were released with 16-bit systems, meaning that audio and graphics improved even more in this era. But an arguably bigger moment for this gen was the emergence of the Nintendo Game Boy.
1993: The 3D Start of Gen Five
This generation saw the move away from pixels and towards 3D polygons. Some consoles like the Sony PlayStation started using CD-ROMs instead of cartridges, which stored more data at a cheaper cost and changed the industry.
1998: Gen Six and the Internet
At the start of this generation, the three major players in the console space were Sony, Sega, and Nintendo. By the end, Sega would be replaced with Microsoft as it launched the Xbox and helped popularize online console gaming.
2005: HD Graphics and Motion Controls of Gen Seven
On one side of the market, Microsoft and Sony were competing with high-definition graphics, faster processers, and different forms (Blu-rays or DVDs). But Nintendo’s motion-sensing Nintendo Wii arguably defined this generation, and the handheld Nintendo DS swept the market as well.
2012: Gen Eight’s Modern Consoles
Consoles of this era started having increased connectivity and processing power, with full HD an expectation. It was also an extremely long generation, starting with Nintendo’s unsuccessful Wii U and ending with the ultra-successful Nintendo Switch, widely considered the first hybrid console with three different ways to play: TV mode, handheld mode, or tabletop mode.
2020: Gen Nine and Beyond
So far, this generation has brought upgraded graphics (up to 8K resolution), larger games, and game-streaming capabilities. Devices in this gen include the Xbox Series X/S and PlayStation 5, which both use solid state drives to increase speed and performance, while Nintendo has yet to introduce a 9th generation device.
The Best-Selling Game Consoles
The best-selling video game console of all time is Sony’s PlayStation 2 (PS2). More than 157 million systems have been sold around the world since its launch in March 2000.
|Rank||Console||Manufacturer||Global lifetime sales (millions)|
|1||PlayStation 2 (PS2)||Sony||157.68|
|2||Nintendo DS (DS)||Nintendo||154.90|
|3||Game Boy (GB)||Nintendo||118.69|
|4||PlayStation 4 (PS4)||Sony||116.97|
|5||Nintendo Switch (NS)||Nintendo||107.21|
|7||Nintendo Wii (Wii)||Nintendo||101.64|
|8||PlayStation 3 (PS3)||Sony||87.41|
|9||Xbox 360 (X360)||Microsoft||85.8|
|10||Game Boy Advance (GBA)||Nintendo||81.51|
|11||PlayStation Portable (PSP)||Sony||81.09|
|12||Nintendo 3DS (3DS)||Nintendo||75.95|
|13||Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)||Nintendo||61.91|
|14||Xbox One (XOne)||Microsoft||50.57|
|15||Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)||Nintendo||49.10|
|16||Nintendo 64 (N64)||Nintendo||32.93|
|17||Sega Genesis (GEN)||Sega||29.54|
|18||Atari 2600 (2600)||Atari||27.64|
|21||PlayStation 5 (PS5)||Sony||19.32|
|22||PlayStation Vita (PSV)||Sony||16.21|
|23||Xbox Series X/S (XS)||Microsoft||14.32|
|24||Nintendo Wii U (WiiU)||Nintendo||13.97|
|26||Sega Saturn (SAT)||Sega||8.82|
|28||Atari 7800 (7800)||Atari||4.30|
Despite the fact the PS2’s been discontinued since 2013, no other gaming console has managed to top it—in fact, the next closest actively-sold consoles, the PS4 and Nintendo Switch, are each more than 40 million units behind.
One major factor for the PS2’s success was its built-in DVD player. At the time, DVD players were very expensive, and in many places a PS2 was a cheaper and effective alternative. It was also one of the first devices to be “backward compatible,” meaning users could play most of their PS1 games on the PS2. This meant players didn’t have to buy a whole new library of games when they made the switch to a PS2, and Sony could tap into its existing customer base.
But while Sony’s PS2 is the top-selling console on the list, Nintendo has more top-selling consoles on the list—almost half of the consoles on the list are manufactured by Nintendo (11), while only seven are made by Sony.
What Will it Take to Out-Sell the PS2?
As the PS4 has started taking a backseat to the PS5 in sales and promotion, the current most-likely contender for the best-selling console crown is the Nintendo Switch. Early in 2022, it was the fastest console to sell 100 million units.
With lots of hype around the possibilities of AR and VR, it’ll be interesting to see what new features come with the next generation of gaming consoles.
Will future devices ever beat the PS2’s record-breaking sales? Time will tell. But for now, the 22-year-old console continues to hold its well-earned spot at the top.
Visualizing The 50 Biggest Data Breaches From 2004–2021
In 2021, more than 5.9 billion user records were stolen. This graphic visualizes the 50 largest data breaches, by entity and sector, since 2004.
Visualizing The 50 Biggest Data Breaches From 2004–2021
As our world has become increasingly reliant on technology and data stored online, data breaches have become an omnipresent threat to users, businesses, and government agencies. In 2021, a new record was set with more than 5.9 billion user records stolen.
This graphic by Chimdi Nwosu visualizes the 50 largest data breaches since 2004, along with the sectors most impacted. Data was aggregated from company statements and news reports.
Understanding the Basics of Data Breaches
A data breach is an incident in which sensitive or confidential information is copied, transmitted or stolen by an unauthorized entity. This can occur as a result of malware attacks, payment card fraud, insider leaks, or unintended disclosure.
The targeted data is often customer PII (personally identifiable information), employee PII, intellectual property, corporate data or government agency data.
Date breaches can be perpetrated by lone hackers, organized cybercrime groups, or even national governments. Stolen information can then be used in other criminal enterprises such as identity theft, credit card fraud, or held for ransom payment.
Notable Data Breaches Since 2004
The largest data breach recorded occurred in 2013 when all three billion Yahoo accounts had their information compromised. In that cyberattack, the hackers were able to gather the personal information and passwords of users. While the full extent of the Yahoo data breach is still not fully realized, subsequent cybercrimes across the globe have been linked to the stolen information.
Here are the 50 largest data breaches by amount of user records stolen from 2004–2021.
|2||River City Media||Web||1.4B||2017|
|4||First American Corporation||Finance||885M||2019|
|12||Friend Finder Network||Web||412M||2016|
|22||Chinese resume leak||Web||202M||2019|
|25||Deep Root Analytics||Web||198M||2015|
|30||Massive American business hack||Finance||160M||2013|
|38||Pakistani mobile operators||Telecoms||115M||2020|
|45||TK / TJ Maxx||Retail||94M||2007|
|50||Sony Playstation Network||Gaming||77M||2011|
The massive Yahoo hack accounted for roughly 30% of the 9.9 billion user records stolen from the Web sector—by far the most impacted sector. The next most-impacted sectors were Tech and Finance, with 2 billion and 1.6 billion records stolen, respectively.
Although these three sectors had the highest totals of user data lost, that doesn’t necessarily imply they have weaker security measures. Instead, it can probably be attributed to the sheer number of user records they compile.
Not all infamous data breaches are of a large scale. A smaller data breach in 2014 made headlines when Apple’s iCloud was hacked and the personal pictures of roughly 200 celebrities were disseminated across the internet. Although this highly targeted hack only affected a few hundred people, it highlighted how invasive and damaging data breaches can be to users.
The Cost of Data Breaches to Businesses
Every year data breaches cost businesses billions of dollars to prevent and contain, while also eroding consumer trust and potentially having an adverse effect on customer retention.
A 2021 IBM security report estimated that the average cost per data breach for companies in 2020 was $4.2 million, which represents a 10% increase from 2019. That increase is mainly attributed to the added security risk associated with having more people working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Measures to Improve Data Security
Completely preventing data breaches is essentially impossible, as cybercrime enterprises are often persistent, dynamic, and sophisticated. Nevertheless, businesses can seek out innovative methods to prevent exposure of data and mitigate potential damages.
For example, after the iCloud attack in 2014, Apple began avidly encouraging users to adopt two-factor authentication in an effort to strengthen data security.
Regardless of the measures businesses take, the unfortunate reality is that data breaches are a cost of doing business in the modern world and will continue to be a concern to both companies and users.
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