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Terms and Conditions May Apply - Movie Review - 2013

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Terms and Conditions May Apply - Movie Review - 2013

Still from Terms and Conditions May Apply showing Mark Zuckerberg

Variance Films

A Cautionary Documentary About Internet Use

Filmmaker Cullen Hoback's Terms and Conditions May Apply is an eye-opening and rather alarming investigation of privacy issues pertaining to Internet access and use by millions of people around the globe. The film will caution you to think more carefully before compliantly clicking "I Agree" whenever you register for or log on to a Web site or service on your computer, mobile smartphone or tablet.

The documentary shows that the ubiquitous privacy policies and the extensive terms and conditions to which you must submit before gaining access to a Website are actually actually calculated to diminish your privacy rights rather than protect or enhance them. Not only that, the layout and typeface used make the text extremely difficult to read.

According to the film and to experts interviewed within it (including Margaret Atwood, Orson Scott Card, Ray Kurzweil, Moby and Bennett Brown, among others), ALL Internet sites with terms and conditions clauses are guilty of this to some extent. The most egregious example cited in the film is the case of one Web site that included in its terms and conditions a clause specifying that users agree to give up their rights to their immortal souls for eternity! The clause was obviously intended to be a caustic and cautionary -- and somewhat devilish -- joke. It was included in the site's terms and conditions for only one day -- but in that single day, the online company laid claim to some 7,000 immortal souls. Shocking? Apparently nobody read the fine print on that day. But then, it seems that they rarely do.

Do you read the terms and conditions to which you agree?

Even if you answer yes to that question, you probably opt to agree to all the terms and conditions specified because you want the convenience, community, connectivity and pleasure provided by the site.

But, what are you really giving up? The film reveals that Google, Facebook and other Web sites that require and aggregate information about you -- including details about your personal life such as age, sex and sexual preference, family, income and finances, education status, employment, political affiliations, hobbies, circles of friends, lifestyle and consumer preferences and habits -- actually sells that information not only to marketers and advertising agencies, but also delivers it -- presumably free of charge -- to government agencies such as the FBI, CIA, NSA and others with surveillance mandates under the Homeland Security Act.

The extent of the information Internet users provide as a matter of course is stunning. Even Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, who is seen in the film in archival footage and in a brief interview, expresses surprise at the amount and nature of personal data people willingly 'share' on the Internet. And, he appears to be quite uncomfortable about exposing his own details and expressing his personal opinions regarding the privacy issue as it applies to himself. But, then, he probably has full knowledge of how the information is actually used.

Civil rights advocates who protest this aggregation and exploitation of users' personal information point out that it is a particularly slippery slope, and that it represents the most serious erosion of the individual citizen's right to personal privacy in the constitutional history of the United States.

Most Internet users, on the other hand, don't think they have anything to hide, and they are quite willing to give away their personal information in exchange for the convenience provided by the Web. Civil rights advocates say that's the wrong attitude, and it's leading to the slow and steady establishment of a social and political system where protest and activism will be impossible -- because the powers that be and other vested interests can preempt or bury release of information and quell movements before they get underway. So, while Internet activism is being applauded by some as a new vehicle for positive social and political change, others warn that it has the potential to impose constant real-time surveillance on ordinary citizens, as well as dissidents, news reporters, commentators and whistleblowers -- with a result that is quite the opposite.

The bottom line is that is a compelling, comprehensive and particularly timely documentary that addresses the future of both privacy and civil liberties, showing them to be in a fragile state of uncertainty because we are, click by click, incrementally opting into a real-time surveillance state, the extent of which was inconceivable before the Internet was available to all.

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Film Details:

  • Title: Terms and Conditions May Apply
  • Director: Cullen Hoback
  • US Theatrical Release Date: July 12, 2013
  • Running Time: 79 mins.
  • Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
  • Locations: Various cities in the US, cyberspace
  • Language: English
  • Production Country: USA
  • Production Company: Luminant Media
  • Official Website
  • Trailer

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