Monday, April 8, 2013

Dallas IFF 2013 Review: TERMS AND CONDITIONS MAY APPLY- Jonesy's Take

Directed by Cullen Hoback
Synopsis: A documentary that takes a look about what it means when we click "agree" to companies terms and conditions and privacy policy statements. 

It's become a mindless thing we do. Every time we sign up for something new or some program needs an update, a new "terms and conditions" pops up on the screen and without reading or really thinking about it, we hover our mouse over the little button that says, "I agree," and we click it. But what are we really agreeing to? The comedians among us joke that we just agreed to give Facebook our first born child or LinkedIn our kidney, which is ludicrous. However, what if the privacy we thought we had online is just a distant memory that we can't ever get back?

Director Cullen Hoback explores that frightening idea in the documentary, TERMS AND CONDITIONS MAY APPLY. It has become the social norm nowadays to be connected to the world via social media. But even if you don't want to be involved with social media, you can't buy anything online without agreeing to a terms and conditions and privacy policy. Hoback skillfully traces this problem back all the way to 9/11. Before the attacks, companies were set on keeping your identity online a secret, but after, policies changed where companies now aimed at helping "prevent" any suspicious behavior. Thus becomes to whole thesis for Hoback's film.

Hoback masterfully builds on each chapter of this quite frightening tale. Some of the things he highlights aren't surprising. We all know ads that pop up while we surf the web are personalized based on our web history, and that our email and home addresses are being sold to the highest bidder so our mailboxes are overrun with junk mail we will trash.

However, as technology has rapidly advanced over the past ten years, it has become easier and easier for the government to access your information and "prevent" you from causing society trouble. For example, a young Irish traveler innocently tweeted how he was going to "destroy America" (aka an Irish way of saying party) when he vacationed in L.A. But a month later when he finally made the trip, he was detained and arrested at LAX because of that tweet, and now he has a record that will follow him anytime he tries to enter a foreign country. Out of context, all the government goons saw was a red flag type of statement which could possibly be a plot to destroy America, but any rational person could see that all this bloke wanted was to party and have a fun vacation. He has also received zero apologies or compensation for the mistake.

The information presented is a tad overwhelming towards the later half of the film, but Hoback does his best by having different chapters focus in on one particular idea: dramatic changes in policies from Instagram and Google, freedom of speech being taken away, lobbyists influence on Washington. He has commentary from various talking heads including hackers, college professors, tech and business experts. Even though there's a plethora of important information presented, there's never a real clear answer as to what to do. Sure, we as consumers can always no agree to the terms and conditions, but then we can't use that specific service. Where does that leave us? This is all new territory that we're treading together, and even though there's not a concrete solution to this problem, this film presents enough information to start asking the right questions.

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