Hacked Data: Where does it go? How is it used?

The term hacking is known to the average individual as, “the gaining of unauthorized access to data in a system or computer.” Have you or a colleague been hacked before? Is so, did this experience lead you to have a second opinion on how secure your device was? Were you more caution on what you do when surfing the internet? In the documentary, “The Great Hack” (streaming on Netflix) produced by Karim Amer, he takes you on a journey and blends the details of how a cyber company founded in London was able to rig the 2016 presidential elections. The narrator of this documentary, David Carroll, states, “All of my interactions, my credit card swipes, web searches, locations, my likes. They’re all collected in real time and attached to my identity, giving any buyer direct access to my emotional pulse.” This documentary will get you on the edge of you seats, wanting to know how this company was able to extract stolen data from people and use it against the United States in the election. The fact that many people are unaware that their data can be used and taken from them without them realizing is terrifying.

In the social media world, many hackers are able to extract information from your device and transfer it onto their own. All it takes is one click and you can be prone to many viruses and the possibility of being hacked. In this case, the cyber company, “Cambridge Analytica” had created a Facebook quiz to mask what they were truly attempting to gain from individuals. Those seemingly innocent quizzes on Facebook such as, “Which Disney character are you?” had created a minor diversion that asked questions that were slightly too specific. With this, Cambridge Analytica was able gain personal information about the person filling out the quiz. Given the information from the quiz, their data analysis tool had utilized the concepts of artificial intelligence to generate an accurate profile of the person responding to the quiz. Scary right? Using the stolen data, Cambridge Analytica had set out to spread fear in order for them to achieve the results of the political parties that have hired them, not to mention, Donald Trump was known to have been affiliated with the group, and was the cause of his triumph in the 2016 Presidential election. This scandal was none other than the, “Cambridge Analytica Data Scandal”.

Who and what did Cambridge Analytica do? According to the documentary, Cambridge Analytica is a company that was known for offering services to businesses and political parties who seek to “change audience behavior”. Aleksandr Kogan is a data scientist who was known for having developed the app that allowed Cambridge Analytica to collect personal details of 80 million Facebook users. Quoting from the documentary, Kogan states, “Cambridge Analytica used it to build a powerful software program to predict and influence choices at the ballot box.” In addition, prior to the development of this software, Aleksandr Kogan had assembled the information through an app on the site. Within the device contains many of the collected details of Americans who were paid to take a personality test, but also the gathered data on those people’s Facebook friends. With the combination of those two components, the cyber group were able to create something larger, all for the malicious acts to tamper with the presidential elections. Was Facebook okay with this? It has been said that Facebook had suspended Cambridge Analytica from their app, though Facebook denies that there were any signs of a data breach and claimed that Kogan had permission to access the information. However, Facebook mentions that Cambridge Analytica had broken the terms of the license by sharing and allowing it to be used for commercial purposes.

In terms of effectiveness of this documentary, I would like to mention that this film had covered numerous key concepts as well as ideas that were crucial in portraying the world of hacking. Karim Amer never failed to lose my attention to the film and always had me craving for more knowledge about the scandal regarding Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. Amer proves his credibility by interviewing former members of Cambridge Analytica and had them explain their process of developing a software and utilizing such to rig the elections. By interviewing former members, Amer was able to capture raw footage and responses from the interviewee, which will support his credibility. Prior to reviewing this documentary, I had little to no knowledge of how data can be easily stolen, though after viewing the film, I was able to grasp the concepts of hacking and to know that it can be either used for good or bad. “The Great Hack” is directed towards audiences who might be curious about the world of hacking and the reasons behind why people hack. While this documentary gave a prime example of the heinous acts that hacking can be utilized for, there are questions that many viewers think about. One of which is, “What kinds of protection services that we could use to prevent our devices from being hacked into?” or, “Have we developed a software that makes it impossible for individuals to bypass our security system?”

The film strategies used within the documentary are scattered throughout the entirety of the film. Karim Amer utilizes may film strategies ranging from the different types of shots being used such as “close-ups” and shot composition. One of the strategies that stood out to me were the close-ups during one of the scenes where David Carroll was explaining coding and how some can use this to breach into an individual’s device. In this scene, a person can be seen facing their laptop and as the camera zooms in closer and closer to the individual, their face begins to turn into a bunch of numbers, something similar to the move, “The Matrix”.

The filmmaker’s decisions on which type of music or which type of camera shots they should implement into the documentary takes a toll on the message or purpose of the scene. In this documentary, the filmmaker had used the power of music to change the pace of scenes in order to make them seem more dramatic or suspenseful. Given this power, the filmmaker had combined the strategies of shot composition and music to have an impact on the viewers mood.

Conclusively, after reviewing the rhetorical and persuasive aspects within the film, we can say that this documentary was well constructed an provided a great example of the dark side of hacking. This film has helped me grasp the concept of hacking and how it can be utilized and manipulated to gain an advantage over others. I believe that this documentary was used to shed light upon a topic that many are unfamiliar with. The fact that many people aren’t aware that their data can be used and stolen without authorization is terrifying. I’ve experienced this situation first hand at a young age playing a video game. We should all be educated upon the issue of hacking considering that our personal information is at stake when it comes to an unsecure device.

First Year Student at Skyline College