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Netflix’s The Great Hack: A Modern Horror Story
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Netflix’s The Great Hack: A Modern Day Horror Story

Written by Pieter Mijnendonckx on 1 August 2019 for Tech Professionals

Cover Image: Netflix

Even if you’re very familiar with data tracking, it’s hard to find Netflix’s new documentary The Great Hack anything short of terrifying. Like a horror story for the digital age, the documentary features the twin villains of Cambridge Analytica and Facebook and shows how they used people’s own data to weave a dystopian web of deceit and distrust. Join us as we dive into the rabbit hole of data privacy and give you the scoop of one of the most impactful documentaries we’ve seen in a while.

What’s the documentary about?

The Great Hack gives an unsettling insight into the ins and outs of data tracking, harvesting, and selling. It demonstrates, with forensic levels of detail, how Cambridge Analytica used these techniques against individuals, communities, and nations, with unprecedented consequences. The widespread manipulation of ordinary people in the run-up to the United Kingdom’s referendum on EU membership and the 2016 US election was made possible by the digital psychological clues collected from ordinary Facebook users. With what seems like a modern-day divide and conquer tactic, people were turned against each other and the question arises: Are we ever going to be able to have a free and fair election ever again?

Netflix’s The Great Hack: A Modern Horror Story

“Weapons-grade” technology

Netflix’s most recent hard-hitting documentary ostensibly tells the story of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, showing how the firm unethically collected data from millions of unsuspecting Facebook users. They then proceeded to ‘weaponize’ that data (using highly targeted ads) and used it to help elect Donald Trump and pass the Brexit resolution in the UK.

“We bombarded them with ads until they saw the world the way we wanted them to.”

Using the information provided by former CA employee-turned-whistleblower Brittany Kaiser, one of the two-hour documentary’s most memorable scenes uses hidden camera footage to show how Cambridge Analytica data-spinners and strategists invented the “crooked Hillary” narrative that underpinned Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign. The documentary also shows how the same technique of targeting vulnerable and impressionable voters using their own data was employed in other instances around the globe, with devastating effect.

Seeing the unseeable

Even if you’re familiar with how data can be tracked, harvested and used to deliver targeted ads, this documentary is still worth a look. With Cambridge Analytica & Facebook as a backdrop, the film uses groundbreaking visuals to show the widespread use of data mining algorithms and structures in the modern world, essentially bringing these invisible data algorithms to life. It helps the viewer see the otherwise hidden superstructures that constantly suck in and collect the data we all generate on a daily basis.

Netflix’s The Great Hack: A Modern Horror Story SCO Group & Camebridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix – Image: Vanity Fair

The Great Hack uses narration and animations to show the digital trails that all of us leave whenever we post a comment, leave a like, make a purchase, or linger over an ad. Each data point, individually, is innocuous, yet when combined with thousands of others, it can be used to create a complete digital profile of an individual. This digital footprint can then be used to influence our buying decisions, make us vote or stay home, divide or unite us. And we were so in love with the gift of free connectivity that they never bothered to read the terms and conditions.

Never look at social media the same way again

You may be well aware of the fact that ad targeting has been used to erode democracy, and you may even be among the many people who believe that their phone can listen in on them. But Netflix’s The Great Hack shows you how those uncannily well-targeted ads are actually made possible: your behavior and motivation can be predicted by your data trail.

As if there’s any doubt about who the doc’s creators blame for this mess, the scene of Mark Zuckerberg testifying before Congress in 2018 leaves little to the imagination. The worst-case scenario has happened with technology and according to Carole Jane Cadwalladr, an investigative journalist for The Observer, we are way beyond the point that the tech giants in Silicon Valley are still the nice guys who wear hoodies and want to connect the world.

Netflix’s The Great Hack: A Modern Horror Story You probably already know who that guy is – Image: The Intercept

If you’d rather not face up to the reality of how your life is wrapped in a web of your own data, you may want to skip The Great Hack. But if you’re ready to gain an insight into one of the most important issues facing our society, be sure to check it out. We’re looking forward to hearing your thoughts on it!

Written by Pieter Mijnendonckx Digital Growth Marketeer