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Terms and Conditions May Apply

2013 | 79 min

Terms and Conditions May Apply


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Theatrical release date

 12 July, 2013

Country of origin

 United States



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Terms and Conditions May Apply Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, July 11, 2013

Timing on the release of the documentary “Terms and Conditions May Apply” couldn’t be better. After all, with the case of Edward Snowden and his decision to inform the world about a massive U.S. surveillance program, the subject of data accumulation and interpretation is a particularly sensitive subject. Perhaps director Cullen Hoback is kicking himself over the late development, yet “Terms and Conditions May Apply” still provides a proper foundation to a larger discussion of privacy and how it’s being stripped away from regular folk one click at a time. Insightful and swiftly edited, this is eye-opening work, even without a proper crescendo to leave viewers enraged and freshly paranoid.

There’s a deceptive quality to Hoback’s picture, as it commences with an inspection of terms and conditions policies attached to the use of nearly any internet service these days. They are those paragraph-plump documents soaked in legalese that nobody reads, detailing just how the company is going to use the user for financial or research gain. They are dismissed with a mere click of an “accept” prompt, making life easy for those who aren’t well-versed in the whole game of corporate disclosure. However, the terms and conditions contain very real declarations of use, especially when it comes to the fertile soil of personal data, often pulled and processed with any new account. The opening of the documentary is dedicated to understanding the impact and reach of those mindless “accept” clicks and how companies have transformed the practice over the years, with Google’s shifting guidelines used as a primary example of questionable activity, with the powerhouse tech force actually erasing their digital footsteps to preserve their legal command as requirements for use grow to encompass longstanding submission to morphing policies.

Hoback hits a particularly stunning note of exposure with the terms and conditions section of his documentary, detailing a public willingness to tender user data in exchange for free and powerful services. Facebook is also targeted, with their publicized shell game of privacy recalled and shamed, reminding everyone that the website isn’t a friend, they’re a hive of sensitive information salivating at the opportunity to turn data into piles of cash. Hoback introduces numerous interviewees to discuss the dark side of online agreement, with industry experts, “hacktivists,” and scholars sharing thoughts on the state of the online union and how the black and white world of data responsibility has transformed into a permanent gray area thanks to government indifference and user apathy.

“Terms and Conditions May Apply” grows more globally aware as it unfolds, moving on to privacy concerns in our modern world, where governments cagily admit the ability to access anything at any time, with cell phone and ISP providers complicit in the flow of information to anyone who wants it. It’s scary stuff, with the focus of the film evolving to the history of WikiLeaks and individuals who’ve had their tweets and Facebook postings misinterpreted by government agents, read the riot act for harmless activity Big Brother shouldn’t legally be aware of in the first place. Talk of readily available surveillance equipment and master plans of eavesdropping facilitated by the 9/11 tragedy are also explored, dissecting how the U.S. Government is always attempting to upgrade their spy games on their own citizens, pushing laws aside to pave a new world order where everything is known and one click away from exposure.

“Terms and Conditions May Apply” concludes with a Michael Moore-esque bit of gotcha journalism, watching Hobeck find Mark Zuckerberg’s home address with a simple search engine query, driving over to the dwelling to surprise the prince of permission with questions. It’s a cheap act to lend the film an ending, but doesn’t dilute the overall message of internet safety, imparted with enough directorial flavor and examples of offense to inspire suspicion and perhaps action. At the very least, the picture will certainly have viewers glancing at the terms and conditions with more concern than ever before.

Director: Cullen Hoback

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