Divided (in life, while living) in a connected digital world

Thoughts from The Great Hack, a Netflix documentary on the Cambridge Analytica scandal

It all began with the idea of a connected world, where we could freely express our opinions. Feel less alone. A world that shortly became our matchmaker, instant fact-checker, personal entertainer, guardian of our memories, and even our therapist.

The data we are sharing every time we are online, all the likes, follows, skipping content, blocking ads, or people all speak tons of our personality. But the thing is, these digital traces we leave everywhere we travel online don’t just evaporate. They are mined into a trillion-dollar-a-year (and growing) industry.

We are in love with the gift of free connectivity, but we don’t realize we are now the commodity, and we can’t be bothered to read the terms and conditions. Every card swipe, every phone conversation, web search, like, location we go to are traced and attached to our personality, giving the “buyers” direct access to our emotional being. Targeted advertising works. And as the Cambridge Analytica (probably one of the many companies in the field, unfortunate to be discovered) proved, not just targeted advertising works in using our beautifully digitally mapped personalities.

This technology that we barely begin to understand is moving unabated and so fast that there is always going to be a Cambridge Analytica. Despite our rising concerns, or shy GDPR rules. Data and owning our data, and having it back whenever we want to should become a human right. Our data currently is out there, and it is used in ways we don’t understand.

Not just elections, or Brexit, but the encouragement of authoritarian governments is on the rise through using the power of data to influence behaviors. In war, this is called psyops. Psychological operations, the warfare that is not warfare, or the technology used to research and influence behaviors of hostile audiences.

After watching this movie, but also being so close to the worlds of social media, data, and technology, I feel we are entering into a new era. An era where the war is over data and using data as a weapon. Tech giants that own massive data need to be aware of the power they have, and responsibility. Their platforms are used to disseminate fear and hate, to divide countries, to spread fake news, and incite racist hatred. While we’re sharing pictures of our cats and babies, the same platforms are used to divide and conquer. Nothing is what it seems. The technology that is meant to connect us is now driving us apart.

The right to own our data and to feel safe that it is used for us and not against us should become another fundamental human right.

I loved the documentary. But it also scared me. Questioning now again, how much of what I think it’s my free will is really so? After spending days and weeks to “personalize” my feed on Facebook and building my preferences everywhere, how do I know now that “this” is not just currently “serving” me the right content to make me behave in a certain way, decide in a specific direction and… I know it’s dark and gloomy, but what if this is right and we indeed live in the dawn of a new world?