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Remain VS Leave, Trump VS Hillary or even Manchester United VS Manchester City, every part of our world seems to be built upon conflict. Where there’s chaos, there’s of course opportunity and at the heart of this opportunistic turmoil are data analysts Cambridge Analytica. Acting as the lifeblood for various political campaigns and under-handed manipulative tactics the world over, The Great Hack asks two very simple questions – how much data do these people have and what price do we have to pay to get this back?
The documentary begins with a brief introduction to our digitalised world and how dependent we’ve become on these digital systems. With Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and all manner of advertisers fighting for our attention, one man named David Carroll questions just what price we’re willing to pay by allowing these tech companies to use our data at will. From here, the film dives into both the Trump and Leave.Eu political campaigns and the tactics used by Cambridge Analytica to manipulate the most persuasive voters to swing results in favour of specific candidates. This opens a very interesting question around free will which is touched on throughout the documentary but never quite explored in as much detail as one may expect.
During the second half of the film we do see a lot more around the consequences of these actions but with no resolution, things are left ominously open. While the information is eye opening and certainly recommended for those who no knowledge on the topic, the storytelling and general set-up of the documentary take away some of the urgency and hard-hitting facts the film throws up.
Along with following David’s mission to uncover his data, the film jumps between three predominant characters, interspersed with different archival news footage. We follow Guardian reporter Carole Cadwalladr on her campaign to uncover the truth and Brittany Kaiser, a self-confessed whistle-blower on the shady work done at Cambridge. Refusing to be filmed for this documentary, we also look at Alexander Nix, the leader of Cambridge Analytica, and his place at the heart of this scandalous behaviour.
For anyone clued up with technology, our digitalised world is moving quicker than any of us would have imagined. It feels so alien now to imagine a time when we were in school and no one had mobile phones. Now we’re tackling gambling mechanics in video-games, which are managing to evade the archaic laws that haven’t been updated, and social media exploitation for elections. It’s such a bizarre place to be in and feels like something ripped right from an Orwellian novel. Unfortunately, this is the reality we’re faced with now. Through the use of informative info-graphics and timelines, The Great Hack does well to lay all of this out in a simple and straight forward manner but muddies its message through handheld cameras following our characters as they go about their lives.
Because of this, the film does feel a little overlong at times but the compelling message at the heart of this one should be enough to keep your attention until the end. Data laws should be regarded as human rights. As we hurtle further down the rabbit hole toward an authoritarian future dictated by global technology corporations, will we ever be free again?