The Great Hack

Recently, we watched The Great Hack (Netflix, 2019) which investigates the murky world of data mining by Facebook/Cambridge Analytica.

This documentary traces US Professor David Carroll’s attempt to exercise his right under UK law to have access to his personal data, and UK Observer journalist Carole Cadwalladr’s continuing research into the scandal.

Yes, we are all aware that companies like Facebook mine our personal information and target very specific advertising tailored to our seeming interests.  What upsets me the most is the apparent ease of manipulation of people. The film makes clear that the 2016 US elections and the Brexit vote targeted “the persuadables” by repeatedly forcing news feeds of specific information and denying access to the contrary views.

“We know that these elections [Brexit, US 2016 election] were fought and won and lost on FaceBook” – Cadwalladr

How did these companies find their targets? They used a well-designed “know your personality” survey on Facebook, analysed the data and chose those who could be persuaded.

Brittany Kaiser, ex Business Development Director of Cambridge Analytica, calls the data mining “weaponising” and states that data are the new arms.

Carol Cadwalladr’s Ted Talk maintains that it is not about privacy but about power and is leading to the demise of democracy.  She asks if this is what we want.

The Economist, however, labels this film “misinformation”and is scathing about it.  I would like to think that we all exercise a high degree of cynicism about information fed onto Facebook.

The Great Hack is worth watching…and a bit scary!


Google, FaceBook and you

With the tech topic of the fortnight – the use of Facebook data to manipulate the American elections –  dismaying even those in the industry, I have been sharing the article  Are you ready? Here is all the data Facebook and Google have on you  (Curran, The Guardian, 3 March)  with friends who are not knowledgeable about technological concerns, security, privacy.  It’s worth reading, and sharing.