Aug 06, 2019

'The Great Hack', Our 'Black Mirror' Reality

Covering a webcam, searching the internet using incognito mode, deleting all social media, mistrust is everywhere and this latest scandal only adds fuel to the fire.

  • The recent radical Netflix documentary shines a light on the Cambridge Analytica scandal that saw Facebook leak data from millions of people to a company, for the use of promotional political ads.
  • This feature-length documentary pieces together the events that took place, contributing to the fast decline in trust users have towards Facebook.
  • The social media giant has on average 1.59 billion daily active users, made up of both consumers and advertisers - the platform is a major source of advertising for brands worldwide but standards of the community are falling and users are noticing.

“How did the dream of a connected world tear us apart?”  The Great Hack

What happened?

Data has now surpassed oil as the most valuable resource on the planet. The new film by Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer demonstrates the shocking truth behind the value and power of influence data has, alongside its potential involvement in the Trump and Brexit campaigns.

The documentary mainly focuses on three principal people: David Carroll, professor and digital rights advocate who requested his personal data from Cambridge Analytica. A journalist for the Guardian, Carole Cadwalladr, who was on the receiving end of online harassment due to her part in the story’s uncovering. Lastly, Brittany Kaiser, a former employee for Cambridge Analytica whose testimony plays a profound part in uncovering the scandal.

Throughout this film, a compelling case is built, highlighting that data collected from Facebook was used to manipulate users. To appeal to clients, the Cambridge Analytica boasted that it could provide 5,000 data points on every American voter, so, while innovation is impressive and enticing, the possibility of it doing more harm than good is made clear, with the prospect of it becoming a very real part of the future.


The Persuadables

Cambridge Analytica primarily targeted all American voters on Facebook however, the business invested more time in a group called The Persuadables. These people were grouped as those whose minds could be changed according to the data collected. The business proceeded to micro-target these individuals, especially in swing states like Pennsylvania and then bombarded them with personalised creative from every platform including videos, blogs, ads, etc. “until they saw the world the way [they] wanted them to see it.”

Is Facebook to blame?

Academic, Aleksandr Kogan created a quiz called ‘This Is Your Digital Life’ which Facebook used to harvest data. The users who took part were not the only ones whose data was at risk, they unknowingly handed over their information as well their whole friend network to Cambridge Analytica.

Chris Wylie, a whistleblower who helped expose the business, claimed that:

“If you were friends with someone who had used the app, you wouldn’t have any way to know that information from your status updates, likes and in some cases, private messages had been gathered too.”

The big debate here is the extent to which Facebook is responsible for contributing to a world of social tension, or whether they are simply representing and bringing to light what was already there. Director Amer comments, 

“What Facebook has allowed to happen, in my opinion, is because of gross corporate negligence.”

A ‘hack’ comes about when a vulnerability is exploited and this is evident by the way Cambridge Analytica used the tools that Facebook provided, and while this does not completely remove blame from the platform, it equally does not mean they are completely at fault. As Amer states, Cambridge Analytica used tools provided by Facebook, therefore the platform must have contributed in some way to 'The Great Hack', but was it negligence on their part or an active role in the events that followed?

What does this mean for advertising?

Noujaim discusses:

“Advertising has always existed, but it’s never been so personalised and individualised at such a massive scale. I think that’s what is terrifying and with this film, people have said that they felt like they were watching an episode of Black Mirror that turned out to be real.”

Advertising is at such a crucial stage of its development, it is now so evolved that it can directly and concisely target certain audiences. It can communicate and form two-way conversations with target audiences, who are now more selective and less open to advertising, brands cannot afford to pollute consumers with irrelevant ads and data-driven marketing is the only approach they can take.

CLICKON Esports Consultant, Josh Raven, comments:

"The benefits of user-targeted advertising make it a very useful tool for both brand and consumer, however, violations of user privacy should never be tolerated. Data analysis in advertising is and will continue to be, an incredibly powerful tool that, left unchecked, threatens to reduce the already limited sense of privacy that we currently enjoy online. #DataRightsAreHumanRights" 

What we can learn from ‘The Great Hack’, is not to fear that we are unwillingly immersed in an episode of ‘Black Mirror’ and as a result, we do not need to rush to delete our social channels in an attempt to clear our digital footprint. The data is already out there and still in circulation. Instead, what we can take away from this scandal is an appreciation for innovation, it is progressing at an impressive speed, and when used for the wrong cause, it understandably causes worry, but this also means there are impressive opportunities for far more positive development in the future.