We've all collectively scanned a block of text and clicked on the "agree" button before thoroughly reading through the terms and conditions for iTunes, Google, Facebook, and other massive corporations to whom we willingly give our personal info. What's in the fine print and what happens after we click is the focus of Cullen Hoback's new documentary, Terms and Conditions May Apply, which screens at Texas Theatre this weekend. It's explained that those terms boxes are made to look unwelcoming, to resemble "textures" rather than words, so we'll likely stop reading them.
Hoback posits that the 2001 Patriot Act is the foundation of the modern Internet, and has shaped the "terms and conditions" policies we use today, though not in a healthy way. Put the actions of whistleblowers Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden next to those of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who actively shares his users' data under the guise of a social network, and a bigger picture of data collection emerges.
But Hoback doesn't get too political. Instead, he comes at us in short sprints: There's an interview with Dallas-based Anonymous spokesman Barrett Brown, a frightening tutorial on how Google searches can mark you as a potential murder suspect, and the disheartening reality that Facebook has "25 employees just doing surveillance." As MIT's Sherry Turkle says of the social media site, "We need to treat it like a company and not some benign public utility."
Hoback counters that now that the NSA is three times the size of the CIA, Google and Facebook have replaced wiretaps. He seems to take special umbrage at Facebook's shady privacy policies. In the final minutes of the film, Hoback finally tracks down the CEO at his home address, and Zuckerberg is upset about being filmed. He asks the director to stop filming. Hoback says that yes, he could stop, but we never hear him agree.
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Terms and Conditions May Apply screens at Texas Theatre (213 West Jefferson Blvd.), tonight at 7 p.m.