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  • The film examines the state of privacy in the United States and Europe, where people spend much of their time online, volunteering countless nuggets of exploitable information.

    The film examines the state of privacy in the United States and Europe, where people spend much of their time online, volunteering countless nuggets of exploitable information. | Photo: Reuters

Published 9 August 2019

Personal data has surpassed oil as the world’s most valuable asset as companies and governments are hacking into more and more computers, according to 'The Great Hack.'

Big business and politics are mass-mining everyday, data mining, that is. From Facebook ‘likes’ to online subscriptions the already powerful are cultivating this information from average people with the objective to gain more profit and power, according to a Netflix documentary released Wednesday.

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“There are people out there who are trying to figure out how you think. If you don’t understand how you think, they will think for you,” said directors Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim in a statement about their just released documentary, 'The Great Hack.'

“It’s not just our computers that have been hacked, it’s our minds," said Amer and Noujaim.

The two-hour documentary, being shown on Netflix, centers on the Cambridge Analytica (CA) affair, which saw an international consultancy target undecided voters in the Brexit referendum and 2016 U.S. election, mostly using mined Facebook data.

Facebook agreed Wednesday to pay a US$100 million fine to settle charges by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it misled investors about the misuse of its users’ data related to Cambridge Analytica. Facebook did not admit or deny wrongdoing in agreeing to settle.

“Social media companies harvest millions of people’s personal data and sell it to the highest bidder. Personal data is being used on a mass scale to manipulate and influence people,” said Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, a British civil liberties group.

“Data-driven manipulation of populations is not only the reserve of shady start-ups, disturbingly, it is becoming the modus operandi in modern politics,” added Carlo.

The documentary's co-directors first came to prominence for their Academy Award-nominated film “The Square,” which looked at social media as a catalyst for the 2011 Egyptian uprisings.

“We ultimately made a film about whether we have free will. It’s about democracy and it’s about complicity,” they said of their latest documentary. “These are arguably the most important questions of our time."

Cambridge Analytica worked on U.S. President Donald Trump's election campaign, and gained access to data on 50 million Facebook users in order to build voter profiles – including in Latin American countries holding elections.

The documentary also sheds light on Cambridge Analytica's role in a 2013 electoral campaign in Trinidad and Tobago, inciting voters who would likely vote against the company's clients not to cast their vote.

Of the campaign incited by CA, The Guardian, said was to "create a bogus grassroots anti-establishment campaign with the ironic slogan “Do So!” The point, of course, of the campaign was not to “do so” or do anything at all, not to vote, in fact: an insidious argument for apathy."

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