Recently, I began watching the Netflix documentary ‘The Great Hack.’ It’s been receiving loads of attention lately for its revelations about Cambridge Analytica, a ‘data-driven communications company’ which has been doing some generally sketchy (to put it lightly) stuff with our data. The film talks about data’s role in influencing politics, voter opinions, and generally democratic processes across the word. It pays particular attention to Cambridge Analytica’s role in the 2016 U.S. elections as well as the Brexit vote.
Now that quick summary really does not do the film justice and you should watch it for yourself to truly understand the disturbing implications of what Cambridge Analytica was doing. However, I wanted to hit home on one key statement one of the main players in this film, Brittany Kaiser, said - that data is now the most expensive commodity in the world, surpassing oil. It’s disturbing that our own personal data may be being sold for huge sums of money, without our knowledge of who it’s being sold to or for what use, or that we are not personally profiting off what can be considered our own property. However, going beyond the individual, the accusations of how data is used in ‘The Great Hack’ have even more serious implications for society as a whole.
There have been previous predictions that after oil, water would be the next main resource that wars are fought over. While this is not necessarily an untrue prediction, ‘The Great Hack’ calls attention to the fact that wars are actually being/going to be fought over or because of data. As the world becomes more connected, with efforts to bring the Internet to every human, the result is that data will become an even more valuable and plentiful resource in the coming years. What this means is that conflicts, both internal and international, are increasingly likely to be influenced, if not caused by, data and how certain parties decide to use people’s data. Yet connectivity and data are by no means ‘bad’ developments; rather they will be increasingly double-edged swords with the potential to both cause conflict and humanitarian disasters, as well as alleviate them.