You'd be forgiven for deactivating all of your social media accounts and taking a giant hammer to each and every one of your electronic devices after watching The Great Hack.
You might even decide to pack your bags and retreat to some remote woodland.
No one would blame you.
The Netflix documentary, directed by Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim, looks at Cambridge Analytica, described in the film as a "data-driven communications company" by former CEO Alexander Nix.
Cambridge was an offshoot of the SCL Group (formerly Strategic Communication Laboratories), providing "data, analytics and strategy to governments and military organisations worldwide."
Both sound legitimate, but its underhand methods hit headlines across the globe back in 2018 thanks to journalists such as the Observer's Carole Cadwalladr, who features heavily in the documentary.
She has referred to Cambridge's tactics – the weaponising of people's personal data against them without their knowledge – as the "hijacking" of democracy.
The aim of the game: influence voters and in turn, political campaigns and elections.
Cambridge focused their efforts on swing voters or the "persuadables" – people who could, under the right conditions, be influenced to vote for the candidate, group or party the company was serving. This was achieved through a one click personality test quiz app on Facebook – who doesn't love answering questions about themselves?
The app was created by University of Cambridge psychology professor, Aleksandr Kogan.
The data from that quiz, which Kogan sold to Cambridge Analytica, was used to construct highly accurate data profiles on thousands of people, providing an in-depth portrait of their personalities and therefore their behaviour, which goes hand in hand with how people vote in elections and referendums.
But not only did that app harvest information from those who had used or joined it, it also lifted the information of their entire friendship networks, too, without their knowledge or consent.
It's that which sits at the very heart of the matter. Not only did vast swathes of people not know that their data was being taken in the manner that it was, they didn't understand the ways in which it was being used.
Their personal information was sold to Cambridge, and despite Facebook asking the company to delete it, it remained on their books and was eventually converted into content and advertisements tailored specifically to each individual, splashed up and down their news feeds.
In the documentary, despite New York media professor David Carroll proving that what Cambridge was doing with the voter data of US voters was illegal under English law, he was never granted permission to know what his own personal data profile contained.
Brittany Kaiser: Where is she now?
Another central figure in the Cambridge scandal and film is Brittany Kaiser, a native of Lincoln Park in Chicago, Illinois. Kaiser, who is in her early 30s, is an ex-Cambridge employee.
In the documentary, Kaiser is referred to as the former director of business development at the organisation – at first she was only contracted, acting as a "special adviser" after Nix continually tried to get her onboard. But eventually she became a full-time employee, where she remained for three and a half years.
In an interview with Elle back in 2018, Kaiser said that she was essentially a salesperson. Her role didn't permit her to view the company's "controversial data sets", and she also didn't have any real knowledge about how the group acquired its Facebook data.
It was Kaiser who pitched Cambridge to former Trump campaign manger Corey Lewandowski at Trump Tower back in 2015, and the rest, as we know, is history.
She also told Elle that she worked on a proposal for how the company could assist Leave.EU, attending a press conference to launch their pro-Brexit campaign. But Leave.EU have consistently said that they didn't pay Cambridge for any work, and the company itself has said that they have never done any work for Leave.EU.
Eventually, Kaiser decided to become a whistleblower and cooperate with the authorities. But according to The Guardian, she only decided to reveal Cambridge's secrets the day after the publication shared a story about her involvement in an alleged criminal smear campaign in the Nigerian election back in 2015.
In the documentary, we see Kaiser in a number of different locations – Thailand, London, England, the US (New York, Washington DC and Burning Man, Nevada). According to her interview with Elle, after she had appeared before UK members of parliament as part of their fake news enquiry, she jetted off to Dubai.
Kaiser's LinkedIn profile, where she describes herself as an "international law, diplomacy and data-driven campaigning professional with significant global experience", says that she is currently based in New York.
Her current line of work "involves developing successful strategies for politicians, governments, and corporations to achieve their goals using cutting edge technology".
She is co-founder and partner at the Digital Asset Trade Association, a non-profit which is concerned with "sensible digital asset regulation". The company is focused on bringing about "ground-breaking legislation" focused on Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) – a digital system which records the transaction of assets and records all of the information in multiple locations, rather than in one central data store.
She has also started a campaign, #OwnYourData, part of which involves her Change.org petition in which she asks Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to "change Facebook's rules" and give people control over their own data, digital assets and property.
Companies like @facebook have been making billions from our data, selling information about where we are, who we love and what we’re doing. And they haven’t kept it safe.
It is our right to own our data.
Sign and share our petition: https://t.co/b9njLAASjv #OwnYourData
— Own Your Data (@OwnYourDataNow) March 31, 2018
Kaiser's book, 'Targeted: The Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower's Inside Story of How Big Data, Trump, and Facebook Broke Democracy and How It Can Happen Again', is also set to be released later this year.
The Great Hack is streaming on Netflix now.
You Might Also Like