Review: ‘Terms and Conditions May Apply’ explores loss of privacy


The term “opting in” suggests a matter of choice. But as the thoughtful and spirited documentary “Terms and Conditions May Apply” makes chillingly clear, choices are few for netizens. It’s nearly impossible to function online without signing away privacy rights and basic protections. Sounding an alarm about those ubiquitous “I Agree” check boxes and the legalese that nobody has time to read, the film examines the many ways that typical Digital Age contracts are anything but free for the user.

In inverse proportion to typically long-winded, inscrutable terms of service, the film is concise, direct and thoroughly engaging. Director Cullen Hoback punctuates the robust discussion with well-chosen movie and TV clips. A strong collection of interviewees, from privacy advocates to people whose innocent Web activity put them on the wrong side of the law, define the price of online profiles, especially within social networks.

Cutting to the heart of the matter, MIT’s Sherry Turkle says of Facebook — the biggest of the big guns in fighting privacy-protection legislation — “We need to treat it like a company and not some benign public utility.” In footage from old interviews and in a new gotcha moment outside his Silicon Valley home, Mark Zuckerberg is shown as a font of hypocrisy and double talk.


The truth of corporate-government surveillance proves stranger than science fiction, as a few firsthand accounts of preemptive arrests attest. For one man, a posted joke leads to a visit from a SWAT team. In the brave new world of big data, humor has no value — and privacy is on the extinction watch list.


“Terms and Conditions May Apply”

Rating: No MPAA rating

Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

Playing at: Laemmle’s Noho 7, North Hollywood.


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