“Who here has seen an advertisement that has convinced you that your phone is listening to your conversations?” asks professor David Carroll to a classroom in the opening scenes of this Netflix’s new documentary The Great Hack.
Everyone without any hesitation raised their hands up and then the room burst into awkward laughter. This documentary covers the “Facebook-Cambridge Analytica” scandal.
Facebook and Cambridge Analytica Scandal
In 2014 A data scientist at Cambridge University, named Aleksander Kogan developed an app named “This Is Your Digital Life”. About 3,00,000 downloaded it and people gave their information and then he provided the information to a Data Mining and Political Strategy firm, Cambridge Analytica, who used it to survey Facebook users for some research purposes. And at the time, Facebook’s API let developers like Kogan access information about your friends as well as yourself. Christopher Wylie who used to work at C.Analytica said to the Media Houses that was how his company got their hands on personal data of over 87 million Facebook users and claimed that it had collected 5,000 data points on every American voter.
It’s been clarified by Mark Zuckerberg that Cambridge Analytica said to Facebook that they had deleted information they have acquired from Facebook but they did not and the information stolen was one’s Public profile, likes, birthdays cities etc. Some users even gave them access to their News Feed, timeline, and messages. The idea was the company could predict your personality and hence effectively target you for political advertising and It is termed as Psychographic Profiling.
Cambridge Analytica was paid a wholesome of money by Politicians to use the information from the data breach to influence Campaigns for Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, 2016 Brexit Vote and 2018’s Mexican general election.
Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim’s The Great Hack
The Great Hack” shows the world how voters were targeted as potential consumers whose tastes in “products” (i.e., candidates) could possibly be manipulated by what we used to refer as advertising, but now we think of it as a propaganda.
The first half of the film has made us wonder about questions like, “How did the dream of our connection tear us apart?”, “Who was feeding us fear and how?”
These are some questions inspired by the Documentary, Control Room by Jehane Noujam that explores how our personal can be collected and analysed and be spit back at us.
The film explores various tactics that might have used in the Presidential Election of 2016. One of the leads of the documentary, Brittany Kaiser, Former member of Cambridge Analytica uses the term “persuadables” for people who could be targetted and be pushed to vote for Donald Trump.
“People don’t want to admit that propaganda works,” says Carroll, “because to admit it means confronting our own susceptibilities, horrific lack of privacy and hopeless dependency on tech platforms ruining our democracy.”It’s a documentary that spotlights mysteries and leaves questions hanging up there intact. For the most part, the filmmakers have given us a fairly straight look at what happened and spotlight mysteries and leaves questions on our mind and moreover from a journalist perspective the frustration is shown in it. The documentary also zooms out to show a bit of the wider impact of social media wrong and disinformation campaigns on various elections around the world.
In March 2018, Carroll, an associate professor at Parsons School of Design in New York, filed a claim in the High Court in London asking Cambridge Analytica and its parent company, SCL Elections Ltd., to give him back the data they had received on him. Both companies were registered in the UK, Carroll arrived at the UK courts and was successful in suing for information. But he had a feeling if the company has given the humans the right to ask about the information that they have procured.
I believe We are living with propaganda every single day, whether we realise it or not, it is directly interfering with the democratic rules and regulations. While propaganda cannot physically make us go a certain way in the election booths, it can do a lot to guide us along before we reach them.
Carroll, who teaches digital media and app development, was acutely aware that the data we produce online wasn’t ‘just evaporating’. His investigation begins with Project Alamo which was the Trump’s campaign which was spending over $1 million a day just on Facebook ads.
In 2015, it was reported that Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign had hired Cambridge Analytica to use Facebook users information to increase his numbers. This is why he went from being the lowest-rated candidate to the last man standing, before Trump won the nomination. Immediately, the Trump campaign hired Cambridge Analytica. Brittany Kaiser, former business development director was one of the protagonists of the Cambridge Analytica investigations and also of the film.
Kaiser provides crucial evidence in order to show how many campaigns Cambridge Analytica was involved in. The film then shows about Trinidad and Tobago, through footage of Nix making a sales presentation on the same and it was racist. He speaks proudly of the “Do So” campaign, which basically targeted young Afro-Caribbeans in Trinidad to get them to stop voting, “The campaign had to be non-political because kids don’t care about politics; it had to be reactive because they’re lazy.” Then Nix was working for the Indians. They made rappers and break-dancers videos about the power of resistance through denying the vote; it was a campaign that intentionally meant to stop the youth from engaging in politics. And it was successful.
Coming Back to the question about what happened after Caroll’s appeal to get the data which Cambridge Analytica have of him. But Cambridge Analytica refused to give it and hence they pled guilty at the Hendon Magistrate’s Court for failing to comply with the ICO Notice.
BUT WHAT NOW?
Cambridge Analytica may have been dissolved considering the success of Carroll’s case, although he did not receive his data, the company’s strategies have not been erased from the world. As the documentary points out, our data is more valuable than oil and is the biggest asset in the world today. But our data remains just as vulnerable, especially given the enigma of data privacy laws and without accountability, it will continue to be weaponized on a large scale. And This is why extra effort needs to be taken to safeguard and protect it.