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Niklas Pivic


Stockholm, Sweden

The Great Hack

"I don't care about apps. When does it turn sour?"

This documentary mainly follows two persons, Professor David Carroll and Brittany Kaiser. The former is a privacy and data-rights advocate and the latter is a former executive at Cambridge Analytica (CA), the company that in joint abuse of privacy stole great amounts of beyond-extremely private data from Facebook users and their friends.

The documentary started out better than I had expected: Carroll expertly and clearly shows that our personal experiences and behaviour are more valuable than oil, that they are the commodities that are being sold and, most importantly, used against us.

Who are "us"? The documentary goes into that, too, by interviewing former CA staff, Carole Cadwalladr—an investigative journalist with The Guardian who exploded the CA story—and Carroll himself, as he tries to find out exactly what data of his it is that SCL/CA have.

The entire documentary takes place in context of two big political events: the 2016 USA presidential election and the UK Brexit election.

The documentary makers do a quite good job at showing how Facebook not only helped CA, but also endorsed their use of Facebook to not only sift data from users, but also attempt to change their behaviour to make them do what they wanted. CA enabled Ted Cruz's campaign trail, and did the very same for Donald Trump.

At the same time, the documentary takes a human aspect as it introduces Brittany Kaiser. As a former executive at CA, she had access to many exclusive documents which she later used against CA; she knew Alexander Nix, the CEO of CA, well.

We learn that Trump's administration spent approximately one million USD/day on Project Alamo, the code name for Trump's database of voter information for his campaign. Much of this money went into CA and trying to convert "the persuadables," i.e. people who had not yet made up their mind on whom to vote for.

Remember, 70,000 votes made the American election in 2016.

Seeing Alexander Nix be interrogated and asked "So you are the victim in all of this?" and answer "Yes" is quite overwhelming, especially when the documentary makers display a CA sales presentation that displays not only how they swung the most recent political Trinidad/Tobago election by generating apathy in non-Indian persons, but how Nix boasts of this.

Cadwalladr points out how "British election laws are not fit for purpose" and cannot be, because of "completely unaccountable tech giants."

Facebook evades responsibility. WhatsApp—owned by Facebook—is used to generate fake news (which is proven fact). Myanmar military initiated genocide thanks to Facebook. Russia created Black Lives Matter posts and protest invitations to create divides in the USA.

"Is this how you want history to remember you? As handmaidens to totalitarianism?" Cadwalladr asks during a TED talk.

Carroll says our dignity is at stake, and pushes for data rights to be included as a basic human right.

This documentary pushes matters far, but not far enough. Sure, this book focuses on CA, but could have included more, e.g. how Amazon, Microsoft, and to a much farther extent, Google, to show how human behaviour is commoditised and sold to benefit a few capitalists.

I recommend seeing Laura Poitras's "Citizenfour" on top of this, to see how Edward Snowden's information came out.

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