LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Big business and politics are mass-mining everyday data - from Facebook ‘likes’ to online subscriptions - for profit and power, according to a Netflix documentary released on Wednesday.
“The Great Hack” says personal data has surpassed oil as the world’s most valuable asset, and warns viewers that companies and governments are hacking into way more than computers.
“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.
“It’s not just our computers that have been hacked, it’s our minds,” they said in a statement.
The two-hour documentary - showing on the Netflix streaming video platform - 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.
It centers on the Cambridge Analytica affair, which saw an international consultancy target undecided voters in the Brexit referendum and 2016 U.S. election, partly using Facebook data.
Facebook Inc agreed on Wednesday to pay a $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.”
Directors Amer and Noujaim 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.”
Reporting by Adela Suliman; editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and property rights. Visit news.trust.org for more stories.
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