Netflix's The Great Hack is a great starter pack for raising awareness on the misuse of our data

Mihir Fadnavis

Jul 29, 2019 15:39:52 IST

We’ve all been hearing rumblings about it over the past few years. We’ve all seen the effects of it in elections across the world. We’ve all been exploited by it. Now we’re at the point where we can’t deny it - Big Data is now empirically much more valuable than oil.

The new Netflix documentary The Great Hack shines a little spotlight down the Big Data rabbit hole – and if you’re unfamiliar with the subject matter, prepare to be shocked and infuriated. And even if you’ve been following Big Data’s progress like a hawk, this is a good film to recommend to your friends as a starter pack for raising awareness on the misuse of our data.

The Big Data scandal has many prongs and in The Great Hack directors Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim choose to focus on a central aspect – a firm named Cambridge Analytica, which has, in collaboration with Facebook conspired to manipulate users with targeted advertising to swing votes. The film’s weakest moments are the opening few minutes, where a bit of CGI is employed to portray how your data is being ‘sucked out’ of your mobile devices over heavy handed ominous voiceover. In trying to be cinematic the film loses its footing a little bit, but fortunately things get back on track when we’re introduced to some of the key figures who serve as whistle blowers. The information they unload about how Cambridge Analytica employs its little tricks to subvert democracy is triggering to say the least.

Netflixs The Great Hack is a great starter pack for raising awareness on the misuse of our data

A still from The Great Hack. Netflix

Some of the key figures depicted in the film include Steve Bannon, the former head of the Trump campaign, the mysterious Alexander Nix – who used to run Cambridge Analytica, David Carroll a professor who is aware of Big Data’s dangers, and Brittany Kaiser who blew the lid off the firm in a televised testimony last year. What this film achieves mainly, is that it manages to distill the vast complexities of CA’s operation into simple terms that could be clearly understood by even the dimmest of audiences. The information we gather is on the same level as the stuff in The Big Short, but the presentation here is even more fine tuned for consumption.

Kaiser turns out to be the most enigmatic figure in this story, and although the material she divulges is inflammatory, it is obvious that some facts were omitted to give her a more sympathetic gaze. A quick Google search clarifies that her portrayal was ‘jazzed up’ for the film; she is shown to be living ‘off the grid’ in some secretive island near Thailand, when in fact she currently stays in NYC still working with Big Data.

Curiously, the film doesn’t cover Robert and Rebekkah Mercer, the shady oligarchs who have funded CA and a host of other right wing think tanks for the singular purpose of destroying the planet. But the again, this isn’t a topic that could be covered in one film – go further down the rabbit hole and you’ll end up gazing into entities like the Koch brothers, Peter Thiel, Leslie Wexner and the slimy bond villain Mark Zuckerberg who has lied in congressional hearings and is still not just not in jail, but is continually deploying the destructive nature of Facebook in new ways.

The film paints quite a depressing picture of the state of democratic nations across the world because there is no resolution to the conflicts even in the end. We have a problem at hand, and it’s only going to get worse because humans are so intertwined with social media giants, which have made humans a commodity. As long as you keep using Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok and other apps that gain access to your data, the world will keep tilting its gate open for the nationalist wave that is engulfing it.

The Great Hack isn’t about some tech companies and politicians profiting off you, but about how they would never be held responsible until you keep voting for the same people. It is apt that this film hit Netflix a day after Robert Muller testified on television about Russia hacking into the USA.

Updated Date: Jul 29, 2019 15:41:29 IST