There are some impressive soundbites in The Great Hack. “Weaponized Data” and “Information Warfare” continue to stay with you long after watching this two-hour documentary. It’s a masterclass in paranoia, charting the rise and fall of Cambridge Analytica.

The Great Hack has trended ever since its release on Netflix and it’s not hard to see why. I wouldn’t class it as an expose – everyone is aware of this story – at least on some level – but perhaps it’s the way in which technology is presented here in such a closed context that’s most unnerving. To the average user, this type of data manipulation is completely the norm, even now some two years on, confirming their worst fears in an entirely watchable, believable, and yes, creepy way.

My issue here is that documentaries like this are taken completely at face value and it’s used as a way to demonize the industry at large. No-one is denying that this was a monumental mess up, but this isn’t indicative of how things actually work. This can’t and shouldn’t be allowed to be the standard by which we are measured against.

Influence is power. It’s easy to think that everything we watch or read is 100% true, when in reality, there is always an agenda at work indirectly guiding opinion on whatever is being reported. Facts are facts, and while it’s clear that Cambridge Analytica misused their position, think about how large media groups cover stories like this every day (take Brexit for example) – the commentary isn’t as unbiased as it should be and personal opinions do creep in, so who is holding them accountable?

By all means, create content that will help improve user education and highlight the consent process, but provide a balanced narrative at the same time. Awareness is good, but enough is enough, we need to move on. The here and now is what matters, what actions are being taken to rebuild trust in the ecosystem and how we are clearing the pathway to even greater transparency in future.

Facebook, a key figure in the Cambridge Analytica story, has already begun leading this charge for change, refocusing its vision on becoming a “private network” and putting the onus back on the users to opt in for access. It’s shrewd for two reasons: First, it reaffirms Facebook’s commitment to its privacy pledge and second, this will allow the platform to shift responsibility away from its own servers, putting users back in the driving seat of their own data decision-making.

As a result, we could see Facebook reinvent itself as a broker in this new data ecosystem, with user information moved to a decentralized database, handing control back to the consumer, whilst creating a marketplace for all participants to access richer and more reliable metrics. The balance of power is already starting to shift and where Facebook goes, others tend to follow suit. The role of the walled gardens will change over time, adapting to a landscape where the freeflow of data is traded as currency, with users emerging as the gatekeepers to their own ‘worth’.

For us, the challenge remains in how we realign perceptions when it comes to digital advertising as a whole. Beyond user concerns, clients still consider the world of programmatic murky and complicated; a black box of mystery and secrets. As long as headlines continue to give credence to people’s worst fears, they will be believed, and it makes our job that much harder.

Look, The Great Hack is designed to be chilling, and not to be taken lightly by any means, but this was never the intended purpose of digital advertising. No-one is interested in your personal data, and this really can’t be said enough, especially as past ‘scandals’ continue to emerge and threaten to undermine what we do in the here and now. It’s right that momentum is building for users to take back ownership of their data, because as I see it, it’s the only way we can really get back on even ground again.

We’ve all enjoyed free connectivity without pausing to consider the tradeoff in the past, and now we are experiencing the fallout from this filtered reality. Data is the most valuable asset right now (I’ll spare you the oil comparison) which comes with a certain responsibility for all involved – it needs proper regulation. If we are to harness, trade and utilize data to shape the most profitable outcome, then a one-way system won’t cut it in the long run. The dialogue needs to remain open, with each party understanding the terms and conditions with every single transaction.

Tighter regulations across the EU with GDPR, in the US with the upcoming California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and even regionally with the IAB GCC collective looking to create legislation, all show how we are moving in the right direction. But, here’s the more controversial point; if we are committing to an ecosystem built on transparency and trust, then we as an industry need the same courtesy from the user. Paying our dues is all very well, but there comes a time when a line in the sand needs to be drawn and we all move forward.

Data isn’t the enemy here. Much like other emerging technology, it’s a tool that can be used for more personalized and engaging online experiences. By 2025, it’s estimated that 463 exabytes of data will be created each day globally, and that needs to be managed at every checkpoint, otherwise we’ll find ourselves engulfed in a data black hole.

Avoiding a dystopian data future is possible, we all just need to be on the same page. It’s good to be aware of historical issues, but not dwell on them. The Great Hack makes for an interesting watch, but the reality is that it’s in the past – it has no place in our future.

Written by Ayman Haydar
Chief Executive Officer