The Free Internet Project

Netflix documentary The Great Hack chronicles how Cambridge Analytica exploited 87 million Facebook users' profiles to help Trump campaign

The Netflix documentary "The Great Hack" was just released. It chronicles how Cambridge Analytica, the now defunct UK firm, exploited the profile information of 87 million Facebook users it obtained via people's answers to a third party's questionnaire on Facebook--all without the users' knowledge or express consent. Armed with profile information or what it called 5,000 data points, Cambridge Analytica helped the Trump campaign target people they identified as "persuadables" in the swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Florida, broken down by precinct. According to former employee Brittany Kaiser (who became a whistleblower), Cambridge Analytica then created personalized content to trigger those individuals to vote Trump: "We bombarded them through blogs, websites, articles, videos, ads, every platform you can imagine. Until they saw the world the way we wanted them to."

The documentary raises alarming questions about what amounts to digital information warfare conducted by a private firm using big data (scraped from Facebook profiles without proper authorization), personal profiling, and psychographic messaging, to influence national elections.  Although Cambridge Analytica went bankrupt, what's to stop other firms from doing the same?  Should laws be enacted to regulate what such data firms can do (such as how they can use personal information)?  What responsibilities do Facebook, YouTube, Google, Twitter, and other tech companies have in protecting personal information and in preventing such data firms and other entities from targeting their users with fake news and psychographic messaging intended to influence their vote?