The Great Hack | Chicago Reader

The Great Hack

Trippy CGI animation bookends this provocative, buzzy documentary that investigates the roles the high-tech merchants of influence Cambridge Analytica played in the election of President Donald Trump and the UK's Brexit vote. Directors Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim have trimmed their original Sundance festival version by a half hour, sharpening the focus on the two protagonists, David Carroll, a professor of media design at Manhattan's Parsons School of Design, and Carole Cadwalladr, a British journalist who became alarmed at how the Brexit campaign was undermining democracy in the UK. After Cadwalladr broke the news that Cambridge Analytica had conducted a survey of more than a quarter million consenting Facebook users, only to secretly access some 86 million users' accounts and mine their raw data, Carroll sued the firm's parent company, SCL, for the return of his personal data set. Sandwiched between these two crusaders is the film's antagonist, Brittany Kaiser, a former social media intern on Barack Obama's presidential campaign who joined Cambridge Analytica as director of business development and targeted those Facebook users considered "persuadables" in order to flip them into Trump voters; she later turned whistle-blower. It's Carroll who neatly sums up the scandal and its fallout: the digital traces of ourselves we thoughtlessly leave behind with every keystroke have turned the consumer into the commodity. Put another way, in the digital marketplace everything's for sale, including us.

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