In one of the scenes in the documentary “The Great Hack” , Digital Technology instructor David Carroll says, “ Have you ever encountered an ad which convinces you that your microphone records all your conversations?”. The class which he is addressing responds with a laugh and then one student remarks “ I am ok with the ads bit, but where does it get “sour”?
The above conversation pretty much sets the tone for this documentary. The fact that we have come to love our digital conduits so much, we hardly look at the possibility of “it” taking advantage of us or even manipulate us to doing something drastic.
“The Great Hack” a documentary produced by Netflix, is directed by Karim Amer and acclaimed documentary veteran Jehane Noujaim. The film talks in exhaustive detail about the Cambridge Analytica scandal and how it affected various historical events such as the 2016 Presidential Elections, The Brexit Scandal. The documentary is streaming now in India on Netflix.
The documentary presents its view on the scandal from three different perspectives. There is David Carroll who is a Professor at the Parsons School Of Design in New York who sued Cambridge Analytica for data theft, Brittany Kaiser who was the Director for Business Development at Cambridge Analytica who ended up testifying against her own company in front of US Congress and Carrol Cadwalladr who as an investigative journalist with The Guardian ended up exposing the CA data manipulation and its links to Facebook in the first place.
WHAT’S THE ISSUE ON HAND ?
Anyone who is a user of social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Google, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. gives his/her/their personal data and information to build their individual account. Now, the fact is that 99% of the people don’t read “The Terms and Conditions of Use” when they download these applications. This puts them at the risk of harvesting their own data to these companies to be used. Most of us are not concerned even though we know that our privacy is being compromised. But what “The Great Hack” focuses on is the idea that to what level our data can be harvested. In most cases, to topple governments, win elections, influence policy making on seminal issues like Brexit, etc. We get a ringside view of how these companies give out their data and how a few analytics research companies manipulate them to help a third party which can be “anybody”. It’s this grey area which this documentary trains its guns at.
For any documentary to be authentic you need to watch out for a compelling subject and connect the dots of the issue from the correct stakeholders in the process. “TGH” gets a consumer like David Carroll, a whistleblower/former employee of CA like Kaiser and above all a journalist like Cadawalldr who went on to investigate and connect the dots to build a story for the rest of the world. All of them share their personal and professional experiences with the viewers. One gets to go the classroom in Parsons where Carroll is having a real time conversation with his students.
Similarly, Kaiser chats candidly with the interviewer on a boat ride in Thailand on why she is “more confused” as she hears more about her own employer. “TGH” literally gets into the skin of the issue which it’s trying to address. In fact in one of the scenes, Kaiser calls a potential group of citizens as “The Persuadables” which was essentially a small group of individuals who can influence a lot of people. After they have been identified, they are bombarded with specific information on a regular basis to push the agenda of their customers. “The Persuadables “ becomes a sort of a splinter group in the future for the agenda of “the customer” of Cambridge Analytica. Early Facebook investor Roger MacNamee puts it beautifully to her “, Facebook is designed to monopolize attention of people”.
WHAT HAPPENED POST THE EXPOSE ?
Facebook did testify before the US Congress that they had some employees selling data of over 87 Million users to Cambridge Analytica. Billions of dollars has been paid as penalty to the US Government. Also, Steve Bannon who was Chief Campaign Strategist of the Trump campaign was also the co founder of CA. And eventually the company shut down its operations.
The Great Hack is a powerful documentary as it attacks a very important issue which concerns the bulk of humanity. But it fires a warning shot at best. It doesn’t offer any hope or a blueprint for a better future.
THE GREAT HACK IS FOR EVERYONE WHO IS ON SOCIAL/DIGITAL MEDIA
The most powerful aspect of this documentary is the fact that anyone can relate to it. Take a deep breath and try to memorize when have you seen “ XXX would like to access your contacts and personal details “ followed by “Allow/ Don’t Allow” on your smartphone screen.
I would give “The Great Hack” 8 out of 10 for its insights and its unique narrative.