Film Review: Terms & Conditions May Apply

terms_and_conditions_may_apply_xlgHave you ever actually read the terms and conditions before agreeing to a new app, website, download, program? No, me neither. As a result of all our online connections, purchases and browsing a lot more people know a lot more about you than you may be comfortable with. Your personal privacy is not very, well, private.

That’s the premise of documentary film Terms and Conditions May Apply as it explores the boundaries, safeguards (or lack thereof) of the information you willingly give to Facebook, Google, Amazon and a host of other companies and agencies.

The information age is only 25 years old, it is not a mature environment and in many places laws and practices are just beginning to take account of the sheer scale of human activity that takes place on the internet and to balance individual privacy, commercial attempts to exploit the mass of information available and geo-political issues. There’s no question that when it comes to setting the norms, values and practices and culture of the information age – Facebook and Google matter more than you or your government.

If you think this debate doesn’t matter, then well you’re not really thinking. From Wikileaks and Edward Snowden to an ill-advised tweet that could cost you your job, get you arrested for performing street theatre or ban you from international travel. The role of twitter in spreading revolution or propaganda is recognised by governments, terrorists and freedom seekers alike.

Facebook and Google and others (such as governments) have more information is available about you to pretty much anyone who wants to know. For example, Google (if they could be bothered) could compile a massive profile on you that has your life history, pictures of your family, your holiday habits, shopping habits, religious views, political preferences, probably what room you’re sitting in as you read this or whether you’re reading it on a train. They could tell your favourite colour, your sexual preferences, viewing habits, friends, travel movements, hopes and dreams, your current state of health and likely future health too. They would know your income, credit rating, educational achievements, they would know whether you look at porn or have bought 50 Shades of Grey instead of Calvin’s Institutes on your kindle and a lot more beside. Even though they say that information won’t be given to a third party, that’s not exactly true.

The basic answer most people give is ‘I don’t have anything to hide so what does it matter what they know?’ and the right answer to that, of course, is – you don’t know what you have to hide until you have to hide it. A Christian living in Iran or North Korea, if they had access to social media, must be extremely careful about what they say. As would a homosexual in Russia or Uganda.

Even today, companies as a matter of routine will Google you, check your Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts before hiring you, how do you know that your personal views haven’t been taken into account? Of course, what we consciously publish is one thing, what they do with what we think is private is another. Which mostly means sell, so-called anonymous data for profit.

Additionally, many of us may think that if we delete an account (let’s say Facebook) then, well, it is deleted, which is not quite true. It may no longer be visible to other users but it is very visible to Facebook. Not quite deleted as in burnt and the ashes scattered to the four winds, more deleted as in hidden in the attic in case we one day need your data.

Like many documentaries TACMA is more interested in making a point than proving its case more polemic and partisan than investigative and inquiring; more fear-mongering than simple awareness raising. As a result it’s quite one-sided in its choice of interview subjects and lacks a balancing voice – there’s no level-headed commentator or journalist here to provide perspective. Still even so, this well-made film forcefully gets its point across.  Thought provoking stuff.

For those interested here’s a trailer

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