Movie Notes: Terms and Conditions May Apply

terms_and_conditions_may_apply.jpgWe all know that whenever we use the web, companies store our data, track our activities, and create profiles in order to target us with advertisements. Whether it be Google or Facebook, Twitter or Flickr, we’ve agreed to terms and conditions that we never read, and that we probably wouldn’t understand anyway.

This documentary, Terms and Conditions May Apply, which I watched on Netflix (go to the film’s website for more viewing options), starts by examining all the data we’ve agreed to give away to companies in exchange for free services. You may think that it’s a good deal to give, say, Facebook information about where you live, who your friends are, and what you like, in exchange for a few annoying ads so you can use the service for free. And you may be right.

You may think that it’s no big deal to let Google store data about your searches, your email and your location in exchange for, say, free email, a search entire, online documents, and more. And you may be right.

But when these companies grant unfettered access to government organizations, security forces, the FBI, the NSA and others, then things are a bit different.

This documentary looks at how much we’ve given away, and how government agencies are using it to watch us, and, in some cases, to make pre-emptive arrests; arresting people before they do anything, such as protest.

One telling moment in the film is when the director stakes out Mark Zuckerberg’s house, and finally sees him walking down the sidewalk. He has a glasses-mounted camera, but is followed by a cameraman. The director, Cullen Hoback, asks Zuckerberg if he can ask some questions, and Zuckerberg replies:

Are you guys recording?

Hoback says yes, and Zuckerberg says:

Will you please not?

The moral of this story is that we need to ask all these companies to stop recording our activity; to require them to adopt opt-in policies, rather than opt-out agreements, where they can only store our data if we expressly agree to it.

Made before the Snowden revelations, this film shows just how pervasive all this data collection and storage is. Since Snowden leaked documents confirming much of this, we now know that nothing we do online – or on the phone, or, in some cases, in the streets – is truly private.

Yet the public reaction to all this is generally a shoulder-shrugging “whatever.” Even after the extent of NSA data collection was demonstrated by Edward Snowden, there’s no public outcry, and most people just think it’s the new normal. You may be right. But, then again, you may not. It might be time to think about this issue.