We love the internet so much, we sold our souls to keep it growing. There is literally no such thing as privacy online, but we like Facebook and Youtube and Instagram so much, we just kind of shrug our shoulders as we tick those ‘I’ve read the terms & conditions’ boxes without so much as scrolling through. But even if we read all that fine print, and knew exactly how invasively these companies were mining your personal information, we’d still grant that permission because we’re so dependent on social media platforms and apps that walking away at this point feels hardly plausible.
The Great Hack is a documentary that looks specifically at Cambridge Analytica, which is a company that makes its money by gathering and weaponizing your Facebook likes. Data is the most valuable asset on Earth – more valuable than oil. YOU are the commodity and Big Data is doing everything it can to know you, intimately, without you even realizing.
Cambridge Analytica has 5000 data points on every American voter. Think about that. Could you even say 5000 different things about yourself? This company can. It has scanned your private messages, your profiles, your preferences. They know what you watch, what you turn off halfway through, what you share, what you save, what you click on, what you scroll by. We all know that this data has been used for several years to make ads tailored to us. If I’ve been looking into dehumidifiers, suddenly my feed is suspiciously full of ads for dehumidifiers. But Big Data is doing something much more sinister than that. It is using your information to subvert democracy. During Trump’s run for president, his campaign spent one million dollars per day PER DAY on Facebook ads. They knew what you needed to hear in order to consider Trump. They also knew how to turn you against Hilary. They targeted you. They made videos just for you. They made sure you only saw what they wanted you to see. Cambridge Analytica is a full-service propaganda machine, and you don’t get a choice in the matter because they find you wherever you are – in your emails, your online shopping, your dating profile, your mother’s Facebook account.
Facebook Facebook Facebook. You’ve heard that a lot already, and for good reason. Much of this deviousness is happening on Facebook. All these personality quizzes? Data mining. Questionnaires? Data mining. I left Facebook a while ago because I knew I just couldn’t trust it. I try to be smart about my online consumption, but the truth is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If a friend of yours does all those personality tests, you’re fucked. Because they give the app permission not just to look into their own profiles, but those of all their friends. And often we know who these people are. I’ll give you a hint: it’s my mother. Just 3 days ago, she shared yet another, one in which she shared answers to questions like # of marriage, of divorces, of children, of pets, of vacations, etc etc etc. Thanks Mom! Facebook OWNS our data, our pictures, every single bit of info we’ve ever shared on there. They own the quizzes you take and the videos you watch. They own my mother’s travel iternaries, and the pictures she posts of her grandkids. They know where she works, where she went to school, who her classmates were, who her neighbours are, where she eats dinner on a Friday night. Because she tells them. She volunteers the information and Facebook allows companies like Cambridge Analytica, which refers to ITSELF as a behaviour change agency, to come in and scrape every last little valuable detail from people’s profiles. And they’re using that information for GLOBAL POLITICAL MANIPULATION. Facebook is DESIGNED to get you to give up your info, it CREATED tools to help companies target you, it made BILLIONS of dollars selling your data to the highest bidder – nay – to every bidder – without your true, informed consent.
Your data is being used against you. It’s being used to shape world politics. It’s being used to stoke fear. And it’s happening in the same place where you share recipes and baby news and dog pictures.
Cambridge Analytica was partly owned by the family of Robert Mercer, an American hedge fund manager who supports conservative causes. STEVE BANNON was their VP. They did work for Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Brexit. Through paid advertising on Facebook, it received clicks from 270 000 users. But those 270 000 Facebook users gave the app permission to also mine the data of everyone in their Friends network. From those 270K users, Cambridge Analytica then had access to 87 MILLION people. Are you confident you aren’t one of them? Or do you maybe have a mom like mine, or an aunt who overshares, or a friend who always tags you? Chances are, someone you know loves to do quizzes: What % Billie Eilish are you? Can we guess your age based on your Disney movie preferences? Are you more Miley Cyrus or Hannah Montana?
Anyway. The Great Hack is streaming on Netflix right now, which also knows an unsettling amount about you, if we’re being honest. So it’s important that we start thinking about ways to protect ourselves, personally, collectively, nationally, globally. By the time my mom’s grandkids are adults, they’ll have 70 THOUSAND data points about themselves, and if things continue as they are, absolutely NO rights to them. We can try to stop our data leaks, limit the info we share, but as citizens of the 21st century, there is no way to live completely outside the matrix. So our information continues to be sold, and we continue to be manipulated. What are we going to do about it?