FMP: The Great Hack

For my first piece of research I was suggested to watch The Great Hack on Netflix by one of my peers. They mentioned it was an incredible insight into the bad side of online personal data collection.

The film started out with an introduction to the topic stating that social media and the online world started out as a place to connect. A place to interact with others but over the years the internet has grown more than that. We use social media accounts to connect and share our lives. Many of us upload streams of personal data but who exactly can see this data. Once you upload something online our data isn’t just hidden in the depth of the online world. Now these digital traces of ourselves are being mined into a trillion dollar a year industry. All our interactions are being collected in real time and are attached to our identity, giving any companies direct access to our emotional pulse. They feed us a constant stream of personalised content built for us, and this is true for each and everyone of us. Online websites are now predicting our behaviour based on our online data and using it for their own benefits. We are now the commodity, we are now the product.

The Great Hack is a run down on the events that took place during the 2016 American election and the 2016 Brexit Referendum. Mainly looking at the online illegal practices that went on with Cambridge Analytic and the Trump office. Cambridge Analytica was a voter profile company working with the Trump election team at that time. They had collected over 5000 data points on every American voter by mining personal information from Facebook. All you had to do was take a personality test which connected to facebook. This test then harvested the personal data of millions of people’s Facebook profiles without their consent. It wasn’t just your data either but all your facebook friends data too. They harvested personal information on where users lived and what pages they liked, which helped build psychological profiles that analysed characteristics and personality traits. Once your personality trait was know they could predict your behaviour, and behaviour can predict your voting patterns. Most Americans at the time had no idea of the personal data breech by Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. It was an incredibly unethical practice that took peoples data and used it in a way they didn’t understand. It was like playing with peoples phycology without their awareness. David Carroll an associate profferer and investigator of this case said that if people know the extent of the surveillance you would be shocked. In context of the Trump election these voting profiles were used to find those who could be easily swayed. These people were called the persuadables. The Trump election team would then make personal content in forms of articles and propaganda to trigger these types of people. They were making these persuadables see the world the way the Trump team wanted them to see the world. This then led a lot of manipulated audiences to vote for Trump.

Brittany Kaiser, a previous employ from Cambridge Analytica who worked on both the Trump election and Vote Leave campaign for Brexit, speaks out in this documentary about the unethical practice they used. She has since felt regret in her partake of both these campaigns saying that she now realises this huge human rights issue. Kaiser has seen the breth on what data manipulation can do to people and stated that psychographics should be considered as a weapon. It is information warfare for elections. She went on to say that these experiments were first practiced on smaller countries for example the Brexit case. It was then learnt upon to be used in the Trump election. Kaiser stated that the only way to curb this is for the population to own their data as if it’s their property.

Carole Cadwalladr, an investigative journalist featured in the documentary, stated that it is impossible to have a fair election now. With these high tech giants like Facebook, everything is controlled and we don’t have a say in what our data is used for. She went on to say that we have come into a new era where Facebook politics is full of fear and hate. It is turning the country against itself to divide and conquer all to satisfy the people who are higher up. She gave the current state of Brazil as an example. Saying that it is well know that WhatsApp, a Facebook owned company, clearly implicated in the decimation of fake news which led to the current right wing extremist leadership. These platforms that were made to connect us have now been weaponised by larger companies for their own gain.

In the documentary is follows David Carroll as he tries to take back his data from Cambridge Analytica. By the end of the documentary Cambridge Analytica have pled guilty to his preceding but Carroll still never got his personal data back.

I found this documentary extremely eye opening. I didn’t actually know about this case before hand and I feel as though its so important to learn about. It shows why its so important to protect your personal data. I think its a imporatnt reason to stop sharing so much personal data online especially as we have no control over how it may be used. We can all be manipulated by online practices and have no idea about it. Its really important to let people know about the extensive knowledge online companies have of us and that we should always be sceptical when online. This would be a great aspect to base my project on, making people more aware of the huge seedy underbelly of the personal data collection world.


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