Hot Docs 2013: My Thoughts on Terms and Conditions May Apply

Terms_and_Conditions_May_Apply Anyone who has ever used a computer, or any form of technology, has probably have had to agree to “Terms and Conditions” at some point or another.  Since these digital contracts are often quite long and made up of confusing legalese, it has almost become second nature to blindly agree to these terms without any hesitation.  Well, Cullen Hoback’s documentary Terms and Conditions May Apply examines what exactly we are agreeing to and the possible consequences. According to the film, we would spend one month out of every year if we took the time to read every “Terms and Conditions” statement we agree to.  However, many of these statements apparently give companies like Google or Facebook the right to store personal information and reveal it to the government if asked.  This is especially true after the 2001 passing of the Patriot Act in the United States.  In addition, online surveillance is becoming more prevalent and there have been cases of authorities responding to flagged posts on Facebook posts or tweets at surprising speeds. I have to admit that I had somewhat mixed feelings about Terms and Conditions May Apply.  The general message I got from the film is “privacy is dead and Big Brother is watching you.”  While there are many examples given to back this up, I think they are some very extreme cases.  Not everyone is going to have a swat team show up at their door if they quote Fight Club on Facebook or be detained at an airport because of a misinterpreted tweet.  While I do agree that the public have to be more educated about what they post online, I don’t think you have to be as paranoid as the film is leading you to believe. Facebook gets the worst of the criticism in the film, particularly because it has changed its privacy policy many times over the years and now makes users profiles public by default.  Because of all the public data posted on Facebook, it has actually become one of the main methods the CIA uses to gather information.  There is also the fact given that Facebook stores thousands of pages of user data, including information that the user has deleted from their profile.  Because director Hoback couldn’t get an interview from a Facebook representative, he is actually shown at one point confronting Mark Zuckerberg at his house.  Hoback is wearing a hidden spyglass camera during the conversation and makes the snarky observation that Zuckerberg smiled when Hoback’s main camera stopped recording, because Zuckerberg thought that he wasn’t being recorded.  It’s definitely a very roundabout way of saying that people like their privacy (especially when you are confronting them at their house). Overall, while I thought Terms and Conditions May Apply has some interesting information about the decline of privacy online, I did not respond well to the way it was presented.  Yes, a lot more of our personal information is accessible than it was two decades ago.  However, I don’t think we need to be paranoid about the government always looking over our shoulder.  Just know that a lot of what’s posted online can be considered public and have some common sense.7 | FAIR 

Sean Kelly Author

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).