The Netflix Queue: Terms And Conditions May Apply (2013)
Terms And Conditions May Apply is now available for streaming on Netflix.
How many times have you actually read an entire Terms of Service agreement before agreeing to it? I can’t say I have, ever. Of course not, they’re not designed to be read: large walls of text, mostly in a san-serif font and all caps, quickly become a visual texture rather than reading material. Still, though, we live in a digital age and younger generations are more technologically savvy than ever before. We talk to our kids about not sharing personal information online. We may think we’re pretty aware of what we share to whom on the Internet, but are we? Cullen Hoback’s 2013 documentary Terms And Conditions May Apply says no, we’re not. Maybe your boss can’t see your status updates complaining about his incompetence, but that doesn’t mean no one is keeping a digital record of them.
Terms And Conditions May Apply addresses the vague paranoia we all shrug off as we click “accept” on those lengthy documents we’re supposed to agree to before using just about any online service: what are we really signing up for? The film starts out innocently enough, showing how large corporations target advertising based on online activities, how Google, for example, began trading information across its various platforms to create detailed consumer profiles for its users. For most people, this amounts to nothing more than a minor annoyance and a noticeable change in the ads that pop up on the side of our Facebook feeds.
The film then escalates, going through a sample Terms of Service agreement and highlighting key phrases about recording and sharing information with corporations and the government. By the end of the film, Hoback is showing extreme cases of protestors arrested before they’ve even begun because their communiques were turned over to law enforcement in an attempt to prevent illegal activity. Yes, it sounds a lot like science fiction (Minority Report is referenced in one instance), but Hoback hasn’t made a giant leap to get there: through the film, through his sequencing of interviews, he’s carefully led the audience along a logical path from a simple “like” on Facebook to an Orwellian nightmare.
One of the film’s most poignant moments comes during an interview with Christopher Shin, VP of Engineering for Cellebrite, a company that sells surveillance technology to law enforcement. At first, he suggests that if someone were to dump his phone, they’d get a good laugh, but he’s not likely to land in jail. Then, his smile falls and he retracts his statement. His work BlackBerry, he says, contains sensitive information about Cellebrite and its clients. Not only does this make you wonder what sort of information Shin and his colleagues are collecting, it shines a glaring light on the way most of us think about sharing information online: we’re not doing anything wrong, so there’s nothing to worry about. But Hoback’s documentary has a rebuttal for that line of thinking as well: you have nothing to hide, until you do.
Terms And Conditions May Apply actually offers a solution, beyond falling off the digital grid: change the way TOS agreements are written, require users to opt-in to security measures. Make data mining of consumers is no longer practical for large corporations. Until that happens, watch what you post: everyone else is watching it.
A Gallery of Images from Terms and Conditions May Apply