In the alternate universe of HBO’s Silicon Valley, Russian hackers don’t pose as much of a threat as employee incompetence. Still, the acclaimed comedy that lampoons the tech world spared a brief second of its fifth season premiere to jab at Facebook’s woes in the wake of Cambridge Analytica.
The Season 5 premiere of Silicon Valley aired Sunday on HBO. While the Emmy-nominated series has just modest reflections of the real-world tech sphere, its animated intro is where the show can be as timely as a Twitter feed. And in the new Season 5 intro, Facebook’s logo briefly flashes into jibberish Cyrillic, referencing the data harvest of over 50 million users that aided President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Last week, Facebook made headlines as Christopher Wylie, a former employee of data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica, revealed how his employer collected valuable user data that it sold to the Trump campaign. This is no secret; Cambridge Analytica boasts on its website that it “provided the Donald J. Trump for President campaign with the expertise and insights that helped win the White House.”
Formally, the data was collected in a technique known as “psychographic modeling.” In speaking to The Guardian, Wylie called it “Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare mindfuck tool,” referencing the former Breitbart executive chairman and later (also former) Trump advisor. Also involved was Republican donor Robert Mercer, who was Cambridge Analytica’s investor.
The link to Russia is that, as Vox put it, the data “might have facilitated Russia’s meddling in the US presidential election.” Hence the Cyrillic letters.
In a 2016 story on WIRED, showrunners Mike Judge and Alec Berg said that the intro is a chance for Silicon Valley to keep up with the ever-changing tech landscape. Since the show premiered in 2014, companies like Lyft and Uber emerged as direct competitors, and were introduced as bumping hot air balloons, while the balloon for Napster deflated. In Season 3, the Yahoo building was replaced with Alibaba.
On March 16, Facebook formally addressed the situation. In a March 17 update, Facebook said there was no “data breach” and that users consented to giving their information. What was considered a violation was a violation of Facebook’s Platform Policy, which told developers not to pass on user data to a third party, which Cambridge Analytica did.
On March 22, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said he would testify before Congress in a CNN interview. That is, “if it’s the right thing to do.” Zuck’s lucky that Ehlich Bachmann is nowhere in sight.
Silicon Valley airs Sundays at 10 p.m. Eastern on HBO.