Forget The Purge or Evil Dead. Terms and Conditions May Apply is the most chilling movie of the year. Director Cullen Hoback takes a look deep into the fine print of what we agree to when using online services that harvest our digital information, and the results are pretty ugly.
Even though South Park and PBS's Frontline have already explored this topic, Hoback goes more in depth, exposing how companies we all seem to use and love"”including Apple, Google and Facebook"”are just nefarious as the corporations we are supposed to hate. Their powerful lobbyists have frequently persuaded Congress to vote against any type of regulation for online privacy. While part of the blame lies at the feet of representatives and senators who can be easily bought, it's easy to see that they all want you to give up all your information and then say thank you.
Much of Hoback's artillery is aimed at Mark Zuckerberg. It almost makes The Social Network look like a puff piece. While he's certainly a nicer guy than what was presented in David Fincher's film, there's no denying that Zuckerberg set up Facebook in such a way that it will take all kinds of details you provide and, no matter how much you tweak your privacy settings, they will then be sold to companies or turned over to the government.
He's not the only one. Google, since combining all its services under one account, has an absolutely obscene amount of data on you that can be sold or used by the National Security Agency or any other entity that's willing to pay for it. The sheer volume means that it can connect your email drafts to your online purchases to your location.
All this information allows government agencies to perform their stated goal of stopping terrorism, as allowed by the PATRIOT Act. But as with any dangerous technology, it's more often used to harm innocent civilians. The film provides two examples in the UK of protestors who were arrested and detained before their demonstrations even began in earnest, all because they had shared their plans via social media and email. Minority Report is actually coming true.
But the movie saves its most scathing indictments for Barack Obama's administration. Its continued use of wiretaps and data mining"”started under Bush"”is just one more way it has failed to distinguish itself from the first eight years of the millennium, despite all the campaign promises. And when whistleblowers from different government agencies take their troubling findings public, the Justice Department has filed felony charges against them. In fact, under Obama, more whistleblowers have been charged with crimes than all previous administrations combined. The Obama White House isn't necessarily doing more unethical spying on Americans than the previous one. It's just doing it better.
Terms and Conditions May Apply quickly diffuses the most common argument of "I have nothing to hide," by interviewing subjects whose innocuous tweets and Facebook posts have found them scrutinized by local and international authorities, including a seventh grader.
Like the best issue documentaries, Terms and Conditions May Apply is a wake-up call. Unfortunately, it may have come too late.