While ‘The Great Hack’ offers a neat narrative on Cambridge Analytica, it doesn’t provide any real answers to the problems we face.
The Great Hack analyzes the rise and fall of Cambridge Analytica, the consulting firm that allegedly influenced over 200 elections around the globe. In the 2016 US Presidential Election, the company claimed to have 5,000 data points on every American voter. This data, mined from Facebook polls without user consent, was then used by the Trump campaign to target ‘persuadable’ voters in swing states with right-wing propaganda that ultimately turned the tide in Trump’s favor.
The documentary focuses on three key characters. One is David Carroll, an American professor who was the first to challenge Cambridge Analytica when he asked for the data collected on him. There is Carole Cadwalladr, an investigative journalist whose stories on Cambridge Analytica subsequently led to a string of inquiries both in the UK and US. We also have Kaiser, a self-proclaimed whistleblower, whose conflicting moral compass make her the most interesting character of the lot. The movie also portrays Alexander Nix, the CEO of Cambridge Analytica, as the quintessential corporate ‘villain’.
Being a cybersecurity consultant myself, I’d been following the Cambridge Analytica scandal closely from the very first news outbreak. While most of the information presented in the documentary is nothing new, the timeline of events – from the time of discovery that Cambridge has been collecting data to the moment its CEO pleads guilty of the criminal charge – it is laid out with impressive clarity. Though The Great Hack offers a neat narrative, it doesn’t provide any real answers to the problem, probably because there isn’t one. When humanity decided to pour its deepest secrets into social media and search engines, we left ourselves open to being data-mined, propagandized and manipulated by tech firms, and there is no going back.