You won’t be surprised if someone told you that big digital corporations around the world have access to your personal data. The photos you click, the messages you exchange, the things you buy reflect your personality and all this data is easily available to the apps that live in your electronic devices. The most recent example of this is FaceApp that became an internet trend within hours but no one bothered to read their privacy agreement.
Netflix’s latest documentary The Great Hack talks about this breach of privacy and how a corporation like Cambridge Analytica used the data that was provided to them by Facebook. Analysing the users, Cambridge Analytica managed to create psychological profiles of users so they could target them with specific messages and get them ready to vote during the 2016 election. This documentary is ideal for people who still believe that the stories that they see on their devices are the truth. The truth is much more than that. You are just seeing what corporations want you to see.
It was alleged that the Trump election and Brexit referendum were manipulated by Cambridge Analytica. By gaining access to user behaviour, the company targeted specific messages to potential voters. So those who were still undecided about voting were targeted with messages that painted Hillary Clinton as the unfavourable candidate.
The documentary has three key characters. David Carroll, a professor who asked the simple question as to how he can get his data back from Cambridge Analytica. He sued the company’s headquarters in Britain. The second character is journalist Carole Cadwalladr, whose stories on CA’s practices led to several investigations in the US and Britain. She is the one who tells us that Brexit was, in fact, a “petri dish” for Trump 2016. And the third and the most interesting character is Brittany Kaiser. Kaiser, a self-proclaimed whistleblower, worked at a senior position in CA but her conscience has apparently come into play and she now wants to speak against powerful people she once worked for.
Here, Kaiser comes across as an individual whose intentions still aren’t crystal clear. She is chilling in a pool in Thailand as she casually talks about manipulating millions across the world. For the most part of the documentary, we hear Kaiser’s version of events as she explains how CA was instrumental in leading political revolutions around the world. She also acknowledges that her safety is at risk but she wants to clear her conscience. There is also a scene where she talks about her family’s financial struggles.
The Great Hack talks extensively about the problems that arise when we blindly share our data online. It paints people like Mark Zuckerberg as the villains of this modern world where data is apparently “more valuable than oil”, yet it offers nothing that we don’t already know.
If The Great Hack’s purpose is to shock the audience, it is too late. People have known for a long time that their devices are mini-spies and they continue using them to safeguard their personal information. If it’s purpose is to tell people that they are being fooled because money-making corporations aren’t moral, then aren’t we expecting a little too much?
Journalist Carole Cadwalladr says in the documentary that it is not possible to have fair elections in the UK because of data points that are held on individuals. Citizens’ opinions aren’t theirs because they only know what is told to them. David Carroll also emphasises on the fact that it was a small margin that led to Trump’s victory and this was, in many ways, CA’s doing.
At the end of it all, The Great Hack does not add anything new to the narrative and there is no solution at hand. It hints at the world that we are heading towards and scares us but not enough that you feel like giving up technology. Many of its claims aren’t proven so you doubt the authenticity. Even characters like Brittany Kaiser aren’t reliable enough that you take their word.
Verdict: You can watch the documentary to rewind everything that happened with Cambridge Analytics-Facebook-Trump 2016-Brexit but don’t expect it to change your world view.
The Great Hack is available on Netflix.