At this point we’re all tech savvy enough that jokes about how no one has ever read the terms and conditions of any website or application, ever, are no longer funny. They’re true. They’re 100% correct, but it’s not funny, it’s sad. Although, it’s not sad or terrifying enough for people to take action. When it comes to the Internet, we’re largely complacent. We love that it makes it easier to watch cute videos of animals and ruthlessly spy on our friends and loved ones.
Cullen Hoback’s Terms and Conditions May Apply does a great job at balancing humor and fear, without becoming too preachy about people’s Internet habits. When people make jokes about the terms and conditions what they fail to mention is how limited your Internet abilities would be if you didn’t agree. You could never send an email. Or buy anything online. Or do much of anything. Hoback, and the plethora of professionals interviewed, understand that we’re all already screwed. But instead of shrugging his shoulders Hoback starts from the beginning, explaining where everything began and where it’s going, while being amusing and grim at the same time.
While many documentaries, and even movies, about the Internet play it stoic and cold, Terms and Conditions has some life to it. It’s peppered with movie and television clips that entertain while you learn about how the government and Google (and Facebook!) know everything they could ever know about you and have been using it against you for years. It’s a great feeling to laugh at a quick The NeverEnding Story reference while professional after professional explain how we’re gearing up to live in 1984. But the levity doesn’t always work, Hoback starts us off with a strange little cartoon about a man going to a foot doctor that stands as a metaphor for the way the “real world” is as opposed the “internet world”. It’s the only time his shot at comedy, in light of fear, fails and is a good indication of the documentaries faults.
The main problem is that Hoback tries to cover too much. Even the credits are chock full of information that couldn’t be included during the movie, like Snowden’s whistleblowing. The few times Terms and Conditions does stay on one topic or event, it’s great. When Hoback finally gets to the point of “prevention” and what companies/the government are trying to “prevent” using our data, the documentary becomes incredibly more interesting. The scenes explaining how technology will allow governments to stop protests before they start, and that this has already taken place, are terrifying. Even Hoback’s incredibly uncomfortable conversation with Mark Zuckerberg is interesting because Hoback spends some time talking about the hypocrisy of the people who are selling our data.
Even if you don’t take anything new away from Terms and Conditions May Apply, it’s a great reminder that Google and Facebook are not your friend. You may have really liked The Social Network, but Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t care about your privacy. Google may tell you they have a “don’t be evil” policy, but they’re lying. In the end, everyone just wants to make money. Except us users, we’re all giving it away for free.