The story behind The Great Hack

  • Published: 21 Aug 2019

We spoke to Sean Gooravin about his Masters Show work, which is inspired by the Cambridge Analytica scandal…

Product Design student Sean Gooravin’s Masters Show project is inspired by the Cambridge Analytica data scandal from 2018. Now the subject of new Netflix series The Great Hack, it’s alleged that the company harvested data on people’s online behaviour, which was then used to potentially try and affect the democratic process through the Trump and Brexit.

As Sean explains, they did this through psychometric profiling on social media, which took the form of personality tests. “If one person filled out one of these personality tests on Facebook it meant that the company had access to all of that person’s Facebook friends. It also meant that they were able to gather insights about that person’s personality through what they had ‘liked’ – known as data footprints.

“The results of the personality tests are broken into the big five personality types: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. If someone scored highly with a certain behavioural type, say neuroticism for example, a fear-based message would resonate more with them, and so that’s the kind of messaging that would show up to try and influence their behaviour.”

Sean is presenting his work as a physical personality questionnaire at the Masters Show. Users will respond to certain statements that they will then submit, resulting in a message showing up on the screen. In this instance it’s not a factual statement; the design is more to get people thinking about how their personality differs to others and how that might change what they see on screen.

Sean explains, “I’m trying to create conversation about what kind of data footprints people are leaving on social media, and not just in the context of politics, but also thinking about what our future might hold for data and security. People already know about adverts showing up on social media based on your browsing history, but this is more intrusive and it can become really quite dark.

“The idea for the project came through one of the projects we did earlier in the year with Mozilla, which focused on voice assisted technology in the home i.e. an Alexa. They asked us to look at potential security and privacy threats and represent that in a product, and we also had to make a video to open up that conversation to a wider audience; it might be something in someone’s home that looks fairly inconspicuous, but it’s could be listening to your conversations constantly. Not a lot of people know that these AI-based technologies have the capability to be hacked and have data leaked. My project is all about trying to educate people and start a conversation about what’s happening.”

So what did Sean most enjoy about the course? “I did a lot of research and focus groups, and that’s where I found my niche. I enjoy every stage of the design process but I’ve enjoyed the research stage the most. The course has also given me a chance to develop my technology skills and the design language that I use, which I’ll definitely be able to take forward into my career.”

You can read more about Sean’s project on the Masters Show website. Like the sound of our Product Design course? You can find out more about it on our course pages.  

“I’m trying to create conversation about what kind of data footprints people are leaving on social media, and not just in the context of politics, but also thinking about what our future might hold for data and security."

Sean Gooravin, Product Design student