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.
Ranked: The Most Popular Paid Subscription News Websites
Many consumers are reluctant to pay for their news, but those that do turn to trusted sources. Here’s a look at the most subscribed to news websites.
Ranked: The Most Popular Subscription News Websites
While paywalls are becoming increasingly more popular among news websites, most consumers still aren’t willing to pay for their online news.
In fact, a recent survey by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism reveals that only 20% of Americans pay for digital news, and of those that do, the majority subscribe to only one brand.
This begs the question—which news outlets are audiences willing to pay for?
Using data from FIPP and CeleraOne, this graphic looks at the most popular news websites across the globe, based on their total number of paid subscriptions.
*Note: This report relies on publicly available data, and should not be considered an exhaustive list.
The Full Breakdown
With 7.5 million subscriptions, The New York Times (NYT) takes the top spot on the list. 2020 was an exceptionally strong year for the outlet—by Q3 2020, the NYT had generated the same amount of revenue from digital subscriptions as it had for the entire year of 2019.
|1||🇺🇸 The New York Times||7,500,000|
|2||🇺🇸 The Washington Post||3,000,000|
|3||🇺🇸 The Wall Street Journal||2,400,000|
|4||🇺🇸 Game Informer||2,100,000|
|5||🇬🇧 Financial Times||1,100,000|
|6||🇺🇸 The Athletic||1,000,000|
|7||🇬🇧 The Guardian||790,000|
|9||🇬🇧 The Economist||516,000|
|12||🇬🇧 The Sunday Times||337,000|
|13||🇬🇧 The Telegraph||320,000|
|14||🇺🇸 The Atlantic||300,000|
|15||🇮🇹 Corriere Della Sera||300,000|
|16||🇫🇷 Le Monde||300,000|
|17||🇺🇸 The Boston Globe||270,000|
|18||🇦🇷 La Nacion||260,000|
|21||🇺🇸 Los Angeles Times||253,000|
|23||🇺🇸 The New Yorker||240,000|
|25||🇧🇷 Folha de S.Paulo||236,000|
|26||🇸🇪 Dagens Nyheter||208,000|
|27||🇺🇸 Business Insider||200,000|
|31||🇨🇦 The Globe and Mail||139,000|
|34||🇫🇷 Le Figaro||110,000|
|35||🇺🇸 Chicago Tribune||100,000|
|36||🇺🇸 Star Tribune||100,000|
|38||🇫🇮 Helsingin Sanomat||100,000|
The Times is the most popular by a landslide—it has over double the number of subscriptions than the second outlet on the list, The Washington Post. Yet, while WaPo is no match for NYT, it still boasts a strong following, with approximately 3 million paid subscriptions as of Q4 2020.
Japanese outlet Nikkei ranks number one among the non-English news websites. It’s the largest business newspaper in Japan, mainly focusing on markets and finance, but also covering politics, sports, and health.
Legacy Papers: Which Websites Come From Traditional Media?
Most of the websites on this list stem from traditional media. Because of this, they’ve had years to establish themselves as trusted sources, and win over loyal readers.
Interestingly, more than half of the outlets included in this ranking are at least 100 years old.
|Publication||Year Launched||Age (Years)|
|🇬🇧 The Guardian||1821||200|
|🇬🇧 The Sunday Times||1821||200|
|🇫🇷 Le Figaro||1826||195|
|🇬🇧 The Economist||1843||178|
|🇺🇸 Chicago Tribune||1847||173|
|🇬🇧 The Telegraph||1855||166|
|🇺🇸 The Atlantic||1857||164|
|🇸🇪 Dagens Nyheter||1864||157|
|🇺🇸 Star Tribune||1867||154|
|🇦🇷 La Nacion||1870||151|
|🇺🇸 The Boston Globe||1872||149|
|🇮🇹 Corriere Della Sera||1876||145|
|🇺🇸 Washington Post||1877||144|
|🇺🇸 LA Times||1881||140|
|🇬🇧 Financial Times||1888||133|
|🇺🇸 Wall Street Journal||1889||132|
|🇫🇮 Helsingin Sanomat||1889||132|
|🇧🇷 Folha de S.Paulo||1921||100|
|🇺🇸 The New Yorker||1925||96|
|🇨🇦 The Globe and Mail||1936||85|
|🇫🇷 Le Monde||1944||77|
|🇺🇸 Game Informer||1991||30|
|🇺🇸 Business Insider||2007||14|
|🇺🇸 The Athletic||2016||5|
Yet, undeterred by these well-established outlets, a few scrappy websites made the cut despite a shorter history. Four out of the 38 websites are less than 20 years old.
The Athletic is the newest outlet to make the ranking. Established in 2016, the outlet’s target demographic is die-hard sports fans who miss the days of in-depth, quality sports writing.
The Need For Trusted Sources
Amidst the global pandemic, issues involving misinformation and fake news have helped reaffirm the important role that trusted news sources play in the dissemination of public information.
With this in mind, it’ll be interesting to see what the future holds for digital media consumption. With paywalls becoming increasingly more common, will consumers jump on board and eventually be more willing to pay for their news?
Visualizing the Power Consumption of Bitcoin Mining
Bitcoin mining requires significant amounts of energy, but what does this consumption look like when compared to countries and companies?
Visualizing the Power Consumption of Bitcoin Mining
Cryptocurrencies have been some of the most talked-about assets in recent months, with bitcoin and ether prices reaching record highs. These gains were driven by a flurry of announcements, including increased adoption by businesses and institutions.
Lesser known, however, is just how much electricity is required to power the Bitcoin network. To put this into perspective, we’ve used data from the University of Cambridge’s Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index (CBECI) to compare Bitcoin’s power consumption with a variety of countries and companies.
Why Does Bitcoin Mining Require So Much Power?
When people mine bitcoins, what they’re really doing is updating the ledger of Bitcoin transactions, also known as the blockchain. This requires them to solve numerical puzzles which have a 64-digit hexadecimal solution known as a hash.
Miners may be rewarded with bitcoins, but only if they arrive at the solution before others. It is for this reason that Bitcoin mining facilities—warehouses filled with computers—have been popping up around the world.
These facilities enable miners to scale up their hashrate, also known as the number of hashes produced each second. A higher hashrate requires greater amounts of electricity, and in some cases can even overload local infrastructure.
Putting Bitcoin’s Power Consumption Into Perspective
On March 18, 2021, the annual power consumption of the Bitcoin network was estimated to be 129 terawatt-hours (TWh). Here’s how this number compares to a selection of countries, companies, and more.
|Name||Population||Annual Electricity Consumption (TWh)|
|All of the world’s data centers||-||205|
|State of New York||19.3M||161|
|Walt Disney World Resort (Florida)||-||1|
Note: A terawatt hour (TWh) is a measure of electricity that represents 1 trillion watts sustained for one hour.
Source: Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance, Science Mag, New York ISO, Forbes, Facebook, Reedy Creek Improvement District, Worldometer
If Bitcoin were a country, it would rank 29th out of a theoretical 196, narrowly exceeding Norway’s consumption of 124 TWh. When compared to larger countries like the U.S. (3,989 TWh) and China (6,543 TWh), the cryptocurrency’s energy consumption is relatively light.
For further comparison, the Bitcoin network consumes 1,708% more electricity than Google, but 39% less than all of the world’s data centers—together, these represent over 2 trillion gigabytes of storage.
Where Does This Energy Come From?
In a 2020 report by the University of Cambridge, researchers found that 76% of cryptominers rely on some degree of renewable energy to power their operations. There’s still room for improvement, though, as renewables account for just 39% of cryptomining’s total energy consumption.
Here’s how the share of cryptominers that use each energy type vary across four global regions.
|Energy Source||Asia-Pacific||Europe||Latin America|
and the Caribbean
Source: University of Cambridge
Editor’s note: Numbers in each column are not meant to add to 100%
Hydroelectric energy is the most common source globally, and it gets used by at least 60% of cryptominers across all four regions. Other types of clean energy such as wind and solar appear to be less popular.
Coal energy plays a significant role in the Asia-Pacific region, and was the only source to match hydroelectricity in terms of usage. This can be largely attributed to China, which is currently the world’s largest consumer of coal.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge noted that they weren’t surprised by these findings, as the Chinese government’s strategy to ensure energy self-sufficiency has led to an oversupply of both hydroelectric and coal power plants.
Towards a Greener Crypto Future
As cryptocurrencies move further into the mainstream, it’s likely that governments and other regulators will turn their attention to the industry’s carbon footprint. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however.
Mike Colyer, CEO of Foundry, a blockchain financing provider, believes that cryptomining can support the global transition to renewable energy. More specifically, he believes that clustering cryptomining facilities near renewable energy projects can mitigate a common issue: an oversupply of electricity.
“It allows for a faster payback on solar projects or wind projects… because they would [otherwise] produce too much energy for the grid in that area”
– Mike Colyer, CEO, Foundry
This type of thinking appears to be taking hold in China as well. In April 2020, Ya’an, a city located in China’s Sichuan province, issued a public guidance encouraging blockchain firms to take advantage of its excess hydroelectricity.
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