As a Social Media Manager at Embryo Digital and an avid social media user, as soon as I saw The Great Hack was released on Netflix I was dying to watch it. In case you aren’t aware, The Great Hack is a documentary investigating all the ongoings of the great Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal of 2018, following it through to the criminal enquiry that was held earlier this year.
In a very vague nutshell, Cambridge Analytica, a data company based in London, used Facebook quizzes and questionnaires to acquire the personal data of millions of Facebook users, allowing them to target them with politics-based ad campaigns. Most notably, they worked on the Trump campaign in 2016.
The Great Hack might be focusing on the battle between data protection and politics, but what it also highlights is the power of big data companies. In the film, ‘whistleblower’ Brittany Kaiser, explains how tech companies are the most powerful in the world because data has surpassed oil in its value.
As someone who runs Facebook ads campaigns, targeting people based on their interests and aiming to persuade them to make purchasing decisions, it’s easy to take for granted the amount of data it is possible to acquire. When running campaigns I am able to target people who have friends whose birthdays are in less than 30 days, who are in a long distance relationship and live away from home, who are using an older mobile phone, who are close friends of people celebrating Ramadan. Yet, all of this data is nothing compared to the data, and therefore power, that Cambridge Analytica were able to acquire and used in the 2016 elections. In fact, the British government had classified the company’s technology as “weapons-grade”, it was that dangerous.
The 2018 scandal might be titled the Cambridge Analytica Scandal, but it is equally just an example of the day-to-day data protection issues that we’re facing as tech companies and social media continue to grow. In fact, I opened up the tech section of BBC News this morning and saw three articles about some kind of data breach. It was released this morning that a trusted marketing partner of Facebook and Instagram has been secretly collecting and storing location data on millions of users, despite Facebook’s post-Cambridge claim to protect users’ data.
Social media is an incredible tool, a fantastic way to connect with people and reach new audiences, but also very dangerous. When I was younger and Facebook starting to get popular with my peers, the minimum age to sign up was 13, so, naturally, 11 year old me and all my friends simply changed our date of birth, et voila. Fast forward 13 years and Facebook has become a power player, a giant in tech and one of the most influential companies in the world. It is easy to forget while you’re tagging your friends in memes and liking influencers’ pictures that every single move you make on social media is tracked, digital footprints left all over the apps and sites – an easy trail for data companies to follow.
Despite the evident data protection flaws and hidden breaches in social media, I am a huge advocate for the sites (hence my career choice). As a millennial, I have grown up in a world where everything I do is online and always will be, so it is definitely hard to see a world without it – without a doubt, social media is here to stay. Facebook and Instagram have only really become huge in the past 10 years or so; it is inevitable that there’s going to be flaws. As each data breach is released, Facebook implements another protection feature to stop it from happening again – for example, two years ago you could target people based on their annual income and how much they spend on average. This feature didn’t last too long before it was scrapped. Social media is gradually getting safer and safer, and as a relatively new company, it is imperative for all these scandals to be blown up and become national news – effectively teaching them a lesson, so that they can learn to value users’ data rights.
The Great Hack is streaming on Netflix now, and I’d recommend it not just to people working in the social and digital world, but everyone with a phone, laptop and an internet connection, to better understand the kind of data that these companies hold about you, and to help hold tech giants accountable for how they protect it.