The Multi-Billion Dollar Industry That Makes Its Living From Your Data
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The Multi-Billion Dollar Industry That Makes Its Living From Your Data

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The Multi-Billion Dollar Personal Data Ecosystem

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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Visualizing the Critical Metals in a Smartphone

Smartphones can contain ~80% of the stable elements on the periodic table. This graphic details the critical metals you carry in your pocket.

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Visualizing the Critical Metals in a Smartphone

In an increasingly connected world, smartphones have become an inseparable part of our lives.

Over 60% of the world’s population owns a mobile phone and smartphone adoption continues to rise in developing countries around the world.

While each brand has its own mix of components, whether it’s a Samsung or an iPhone, most smartphones can carry roughly 80% of the stable elements on the periodic table.

But some of the vital metals to build these devices are considered at risk due to geological scarcity, geopolitical issues, and other factors.

Smartphone PartCritical Metal
Touch Screen indium
Displaylanthanum; gadolinium; praseodymium; europium; terbium; dysprosium
Electronicsnickel, gallium, tantalum
Casingnickel, magnesium
Battery lithium, nickel, cobalt
Microphone, speakers, vibration unit nickel, praseodymium, neodymium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium

What’s in Your Pocket?

This infographic based on data from the University of Birmingham details all the critical metals that you carry in your pocket with your smartphone.

1. Touch Screen

Screens are made up of multiple layers of glass and plastic, coated with a conductor material called indium which is highly conductive and transparent.

Indium responds when contacted by another electrical conductor, like our fingers.

When we touch the screen, an electric circuit is completed where the finger makes contact with the screen, changing the electrical charge at this location. The device registers this electrical charge as a “touch event”, then prompting a response.

2. Display

Smartphones screens display images on a liquid crystal display (LCD). Just like in most TVs and computer monitors, a phone LCD uses an electrical current to adjust the color of each pixel.

Several rare earth elements are used to produce the colors on screen.

3. Electronics

Smartphones employ multiple antenna systems, such as Bluetooth, GPS, and WiFi.

The distance between these antenna systems is usually small making it extremely difficult to achieve flawless performance. Capacitors made of the rare, hard, blue-gray metal tantalum are used for filtering and frequency tuning.

Nickel is also used in capacitors and in mobile phone electrical connections. Another silvery metal, gallium, is used in semiconductors.

4. Microphone, Speakers, Vibration Unit

Nickel is used in the microphone diaphragm (that vibrates in response to sound waves).

Alloys containing rare earths neodymium, praseodymium and gadolinium are used in the magnets contained in the speaker and microphone. Neodymium, terbium and dysprosium are also used in the vibration unit.

5. Casing

There are many materials used to make phone cases, such as plastic, aluminum, carbon fiber, and even gold. Commonly, the cases have nickel to reduce electromagnetic interference (EMI) and magnesium alloys for EMI shielding.

6. Battery

Unless you bought your smartphone a decade ago, your device most likely carries a lithium-ion battery, which is charged and discharged by lithium ions moving between the negative (anode) and positive (cathode) electrodes.

What’s Next?

Smartphones will naturally evolve as consumers look for ever-more useful features. Foldable phones, 5G technology with higher download speeds, and extra cameras are just a few of the changes expected.

As technology continues to improve, so will the demand for the metals necessary for the next generation of smartphones.

This post was originally featured on Elements

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Which Companies Belong to the Elite Trillion-Dollar Club?

Only a few companies have broken the 13-digit market cap barrier to join the $1T+ club. Who’s a member, and who’s hot on their heels?

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Which Companies Belong to the Elite Trillion-Dollar Club?

Just a handful of publicly-traded companies have managed to achieve $1 trillion or more in market capitalization—only six, to be precise.

We pull data from Companies Market Cap to find out which familiar names are breaking the 13-digit barrier—and who else is waiting in the wings.

Footnote: All data referenced is as of August 17, 2021.

The Major Players in the Game

Apple and Microsoft are the only two companies to have shattered the $2T market cap milestone to date, leaving others in the dust. Apple was also the first among its Big Tech peers to ascend to the $1 trillion landmark back in 2018.

CompanyValuationCountryAge of company
Apple$2.48T🇺🇸 U.S.45 years (Founded 1976)
Microsoft$2.20T🇺🇸 U.S.46 years (Founded 1975)
Saudi Aramco$1.88T🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia88 years (Founded 1933)
Alphabet (Google)$1.83T🇺🇸 U.S.23 years (Founded 1998)
Amazon$1.64T🇺🇸 U.S.27 years (Founded 1994)
Facebook$1.01T🇺🇸 U.S.17 years (Founded 2004)

Facebook dipped in and out of the $1T+ club in July 2021, and continues its capricious movement. With just 17 years under its belt, it’s the youngest company ever to reach this valuation milestone—though not without some wild rides along the way.

State-owned oil and gas giant Saudi Aramco is the only non-American company to make the trillion-dollar club. This makes it a notable outlier, as American companies typically dominate the leaderboard of the biggest corporations around the world.

Who Else Might Join the Trillion-Dollar Club?

Companies with a market capitalization above $500 billion are also few and far between. Within this next list of six companies, the world’s most valuable automaker Tesla is another strong candidate to eventually join the Four Comma Club.

As per usual, analyst views on Tesla are quite varied. That said, some on Wall Street are predicting that Tesla might reach $3 trillion in market cap within the decade, owing to significant current and projected demand for electric vehicles (EVs) and driverless systems.

CompanyValuationCountryAge of company
Tesla$659B🇺🇸 U.S.17 years (Founded 2003)
Berkshire Hathaway$655B🇺🇸 U.S.182 years (Founded 1839)
TSMC$576B🇹🇼 Taiwan34 years (Founded 1987)
Tencent$537B🇨🇳 China23 years (Founded 1998)
Visa$515B🇺🇸 U.S.63 years (Founded 1958)

Visa, one of the pioneers of consumer credit in the United States, continues to innovate even 63 years after its founding. In attempts to expand the reach of its already massive payments ecosystem, Visa is experimenting with acquisitions, and even dipping its toes into cryptocurrency with some success.

Whether the next company to join the trillion-dollar club comes from the U.S., from the tech industry, or out of left field, it’s clear that it has some pretty big shoes to fill.

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