The Great Hack

Explore how a data company named Cambridge Analytica came to symbolize the dark side of social media in the wake of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Year: 2019
Certificate: 15
Director: Karim AmerJehane Noujaim

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In early 2018 it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica had exploited the personal data of millions of Facebook users – without their knowledge or consent – and used them for political propaganda during the 2016 US Presidential elections. You would be hard pressed not to have heard anything about the case but you may not know just how much Cambridge Analytica were involved in other political events around the globe… This 2 hour documentary, “The Great Hack”, aims to delve into the tactics used by Cambridge Analytica by following the story of an American academic, David Carroll, who mounted a legal campaign in the UK to try and get access to the data they held about him.

The documentary heavily relies on the testimony of Brittany Kaiser, the former Director of Business Development for Cambridge Analytica, who explains a lot of the processes and tactics that the data firm used. In a nutshell they created a seemingly innocuous ‘personality quiz’ on Facebook that was then used to build masses of voter profiles of users around the world. Now, if someone chose to fill that out then that is on their own back – however, the app not only gathered data from the user that filled out the survey, but also their friends’ data (including their interests, likes, personal information from their feed such as writing about a death in the family etc etc. A whole range of personal data from people who have not given them permission – simply because a friend filled out a survey. It is mentioned in “The Great Hack” that Cambridge Analytica were granted special permissions from Facebook to use this extra data – although sadly there is no explanation why this would be allowed.

As the documentary goes on we learn more of Cambridge Analytica’s involvement in politics around the world, including the 2016 US presidential campaign, the Leave.EU campaign for Brexit as well as in Trinidad & Tobago in 2013. The company used their huge data sets to target those Facebook users who were deemed ‘on the fence’ with propaganda and fake news that they had created in order to sway them towards their client. It is very clever and is described as ‘weaponised data’ in the same way that militaries would use psychological warfare. Pretty scary stuff.

One of the interesting things, to me, about this documentary was trying to work out Brittany Kaiser’s reasons for whistleblowing – I simply couldn’t shake the feeling that she was only doing it because they had been caught out and she was trying to save face. However, that being said, regardless of the reasons why she was doing it, at least the information was getting out.

It is difficult to review a documentary like this without simply retelling the whole film. I did find that I learnt a lot of new information about the case, although it wasn’t something that I really followed other than in passing – so there may not be any new revelations. It is, however, put together nicely and goes into depth of some of the things that happened with Cambridge Analytica and some of their key players. It consists of new interviews as well as archive footage from the trials and undercover footage of CEO Alexander Nix boasting about smear campaigns he has worked on. If you have the slightest interest in data privacy and data rights then I would urge you to watch this to see how companies like Cambridge Analytica carry out their work with modern-day propaganda. As they say in the documentary there are plenty of other companies doing the same – Cambridge Analytica just happened to be the ones that got caught.

Have you seen this documentary? Let us know your opinions in the comments below and of course if there are any films on Netflix UK you want us to review let us know!

About MaFt

Film and TV fan, creator of New On Netflix (UK, USA, Australia and Canada), dad of two amazing children, code geek and passionate about autism.

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