Rating: 3 out of 5
Length: 97 minutes
Release Date: July 12, 2013
Directed by: Cullen Hoback
Overview – Terms and Conditions May Apply
Each day, consumers may encounter dozens of sites on the Internet that ask them to accept a long list of terms and conditions in order to make a new account or access certain services. Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other companies have multi-page documents written in dense legalese that the average Joe probably won’t understand. It turns out that these long documents are made that way to discourage actual reading before acceptance.
This means that these companies get people to agree to their terms blindly, even when those terms give the company the ability to use and sell consumers’ information. The documentary “Terms and Conditions May Apply” reveals the shocking truth behind social media, data mining, privacy policies, and the terms and conditions that most people click on without a second thought or a single read.
The film is presented as a series of interviews with journalists, activists, and a few celebrities such as musician Moby. Each person talks about the privacy game, providing some astonishing facts about how online activity, especially social media, can be used against a person. For example, there is the tale of a man who was incensed that retailer Target was sending his teenage daughter discount coupons for baby items.
It turns out that Target’s use of data mining to find expectant mothers was on point since the girl was secretly pregnant. Another story is about a group of English men and women who planned to dress as zombies in wedding dresses and tuxes on the day of the royal wedding. They were promptly arrested by police before they could pull off the trick, so that they would not disturb the wedding.
These shocking truths are peppered with specific examples of how consumers without such viral stories are still susceptible to preemptive arrest or other legal woes based on what they say on Facebook or Twitter. Viewers are given a lot of scary information to digest, but they are also given some hints about how to protect themselves in the digital age. These are helpful hints that most viewers are likely to take to heart after seeing this revealing film.
The film is directed by Cullen Hoback, who is no stranger to documentaries that give new insight into something that has been around awhile. The terms and conditions on websites are as old as the Web itself yet they somehow get ignored. His last documentary, “Monster Camp” was about live-action role players, or LARPers who dress up in costumes and play out fantasies in order to escape their mundane lives.
These LARPers had long been overlooked until the recent uptick in nerd culture, which brought costume playing (known as cosplay) to the forefront. Though the two documentaries are on wildly different topics, the way that Hoback approaches them is similar. In both films, he chose to present straight facts, and then inform the audience about why this might be relevant to them. The topics may not be similar at all, but the end result is the same since viewers will walk away with a better understanding of the topic.
The terms and conditions of websites are very relevant to today, especially with regard to privacy. Privacy is an issue that many Americans are now taking seriously after former government contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the government is using a program called PRISM to collect data about the web activity of US citizens.
This data can be accessed at a later time and could potentially be used against them in a criminal case. This makes the timing of the release of “Terms and Conditions May Apply” a thing of beauty, even if it was filmed and edited long before Snowden’s bombshell. Hoback could not have predicted the revelation of the PRISM program, but his documentary will likely see a lot more ticket sales as a result.
The entire documentary feels like a cautionary tale about the dangers of sharing too much and not reading terms and conditions before agreeing to them. Hoback contends that by not reading the fine print before signing up for a service, consumers are basically allowing companies access to the same information that PRISM supposedly collects.
“Terms and Conditions May Apply” even goes so far as to suggest that audiences should be angry and outraged about how companies take advantage of consumers. Although he gives several suggestions instead of a specific call to action, Hoback makes it clear that consumers should do something rather than nothing regarding their online privacy.
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