Terms and Conditions May Apply
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User agreements, privacy policies, terms and conditions—every search engine, news publication, social networking site, and online store has them, but who takes the time to read them? Cullen Hoback, that’s who. In his eye-opening documentary, Terms and Conditions May Apply, the filmmaker shows what we’re really agreeing to whenever we click “I Agree.”

Terms and Conditions May Apply examines these every-present online policies—the lengthy user agreements that, in reality, hand some surprising personal details over to Google, Facebook, Twitter, and the other sites that we visit each day.

Throughout the film, Hoback offers a kind of history of Internet privacy, starting with the early days of the Internet, when the government supported privacy laws. But then, after 9/11 and the Patriot Act, everything changed. Now, social networking sites offer personal details to the general public and sell your personal pictures to the highest bidder. Search engines store your personal preferences and regularly hand them over to the authorities. Phone companies store your calls, just in case. And, these days, a tweet written in jest could get you questioned by the police or detained by the NSA.

Of course, it’s no big surprise that our privacy isn’t what it used to be. We’ve all gotten accustomed to surveillance cameras and cookies and targeted advertising. It’s sometimes unsettling, but it’s become commonplace. With just a quick search, you can find out a person’s address, phone number, and political affiliation. You can see when they bought their house, how much they paid for it, and what it’s currently worth. You can find personal pictures, work histories, and lists of their favorite movies. It’s a gossipy neighbor’s dream.

Still, when faced with the cold, hard facts, you might be shocked—and more than slightly disturbed. Nothing, it seems, is sacred anymore—and anything you say or do or post on Facebook or search for on Google can and will be used against you.

The content of the film may be pretty disturbing, but it’s presented in a way that’s also entertaining. Hoback uses splashy graphics to display the troubling facts, and he uses film clips and cartoons to emphasize his points. And while the stories may sometimes be upsetting, they’re actually quite fascinating, too.

The problem, however, is one that many similar documentaries face: it presents the problem, but it offers few solutions. In fact, it goes so far to suggest that it might simply be too late to do anything about it. There’s no going back. It’s a pretty grim reality—and it’s sure to make even the most laid-back viewer a little more paranoid about their day-to-day online interactions. And perhaps that’s the point. If nothing else, this captivating documentary will open your eyes and make you more conscious of the fact that Big Brother is, in fact, watching.

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