Netflix’s new documentary – The Great Hack – highlights the use of personal data, mined from social media for monetisation and manipulation, with the potential for weaponisation.
The use of the word ‘Hack’ is intriguing. Was it really an act of hacking? The Oxford dictionary defines a hacker as "a person who uses computers to gain unauthorised access to data". Unauthorised access. However, Cambridge Analytica was authorised to get the data, by us. Hundreds of thousands of people accepted the terms and conditions, took the personality quizzes and willingly gave all their data away. What we didn’t know was how it would be put together and used.
Today under GDPR, we have new offences for unauthorised uses of personal data, and requirements to highlight when our data is being collected. This was supposed to give us back control over our personal data. But how many people open articles, get the pop up about cookies and just click ‘accept’ in order to quickly by-pass it?
If there was a real understanding of cookies and how they are used, would so many just accept them? I’ve even come across cookie walls, where sites prevent access unless you accept the cookies. Is this really giving consumers control over cookies?
A lack of understanding and transparency fuels the problem. To some, what Cambridge Analytica achieved was frightening, and to others it was just inevitable. How can individuals manage the use of their personal data when they don’t understand how it is collected, analysed and utilised? Nobody foresaw that sharing a picture of their dog on social media could be used in weapon-grade communication tactics, developed by the defence industry, to manipulate democratic systems.
Education on data sharing needs to be more proactive, taught in schools and across the world. Only then can people help themselves and make conscious decisions over how much they are happy to share and let companies use.
This documentary is a great start from Netflix in raising awareness about how data is used and I urge you to watch it! But a hack it was not. The use of personal data was something we could have controlled. We gave away the data freely, totally blind to how it could and would be used.
It makes visible the normally invisible data of our everyday lives, and how it is harvested and weaponized against us. Through thoughtful narration and emoji-inspired animations, Amer and Noujaim reveal the digital detritus we leave in our wake whenever we send an email, look something up on a search engine, linger over an ad, make a purchase, or hit "like" on social media.