Monday, December 30, 2013

(What's Dope?) Terms and Conditions May Apply: A Sobering Look At Privacy (or the lack of it) in the US

Terms and Conditions May Apply is a very interesting film as it is very deceptive but in a insightful and sobering way as it opens with an innocuous act we all overlook when we sign up to use a service online but after watching this, we should become avid readers of the terms and conditions page before we mindlessly sign up to them. Most of our total ignorance comes from our trust of companies such as Google and Facebook to the point that we treat them we treat them like public goods instead of what they are, faceless corporations looking to make a buck by way of a profit.

These services are free and nobody is against these services being free but a problem presents itself when we are faced with the reality, as Terms and conditions May Apply shows, that if companies such as Facebook and Twitter aren't after your money, they're after something a lot more valuable and precious, your right to privacy. If we were to take this view, then the Terms of service agreements which may read like tax code but are essential reading if you value not having your privacy breached on a daily basis.   

The film then goes from the cumbersome topic of the terms of service agreement we all ignore when using a service online to the wider issue of the continual dissolution of  fourth amendment and persistent violation of privacy in general across the globe. The film also delves into the industries such as the surveillance technology industry that have benefited from the anti privacy climate in the US since 9/11 and the privacy denying policies that have become law since, the still controversial Patriot Act (2001) a prime example. The about face turn in the narrative was a little disorienting simply because I wasn't expecting the film to look at the wider political context.

What I like most about Terms and Conditions May Apply is that it doesn't let companies such as Facebook and Twitter off the hook regarding their role in the persistent violation  of the privacy rights of their users. The film is especially tough on Facebook and Google from its Privacy policies which have very little to do with privacy and their rather lousy treatment of the data of their users from warehousing data to allowing third parties (i.e. governments, spy agencies) access it.

I also like how it reveals the industrial strength hypocrisy of the heads of both Facebook and Google as the film does a great job of showing both Eric Schmidt and Mark Zuckerberg's indifference or outright disregard of the privacy rights of their users stressing the desire for a more "open society" but publicly state their anger (or blacklist magazines in Schmidt's case) when their privacy is breached pretty much how their respective companies the privacy of users on a daily basis.

My favourite moment of the film is when Cullen Hoback, director of the feature, tracks down Mark Zuckerberg to his home address and basically ambushes the Facebook CEO with the camera rolling as he walks hastily down the street doing his best to shake Hoback off his tail then stops to ask him Hoback to turn the cameras off.

This may seem unfair and a gross but entertaining breach of Zuckerberg's privacy but as Hoback spends the whole film demonstrating, tracking down Zuckerberg and getting in his face about his constant interview dodging is nothing in comparison to his companies rather disheartening practices regarding to the privacy of their users.  

All in all, Terms and Conditions May Apply is as dope a film about the state of privacy online and beyond you can get and if you don't watch this film and don't look at Google and Facebook in a different light, nothing ever will.

Check out the trailer Terms and Conditions May Apply trailer here

You can also the film's site here

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