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Terms and Conditions May Apply  (2013)
3 Stars
Directed by Cullen Hoback.
2013 – 79 minutes
Not Rated: (equivalent of PG for mild thematic elements).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 13, 2013.
A riveting, fast-paced documentary about our increasing lack of privacy in a world overrun by social media, "Terms and Conditions May Apply" is skillfully pieced together like a first-rate thriller. If the information it discloses isn't exactly revelatory, it does serve as a sobering modern-day cautionary tale. Backed by a handful of interview subjects, director Cullen Hoback begins by investigating the fine print of terms and conditions agreements before branching out to research the consequences of everything from Google searching to posting comments on Facebook and Twitter. He notices a distinct change in attitudes following the events of 9/11, with Google's 2000 privacy policy ensuring complete anonymity for customers and the 2001 one altering the language to include exceptions to this rule, including those individuals handed court-ordered subpoenas and warrants. This isn't so shocking, but consider what has developed in the twelve years since, with countries buying spy equipment and the government questioning anyone they deem suspicious. One young man interviewed reveals that he was interrogated for a single Tweet to his wife where he wrote that they would "destroy America" on their upcoming vacation, while another—a writer for the television crime drama "Cold Case," to boot—gets into hot water for searching "car crash," "wife killer," "and decapitated photos" on Google. It's a humorous punchline, yes, but also scary, revealing that practically nothing we do these days is off-limits from going public.

Though we can monitor the type of information we put on the Internet, who is to say how far the government's reach is in keeping tabs on us, or how much fine print we may overlook when hitting "agree" to a terms and conditions policy? After all, the film claims, if we read every last word of every contract we signed or accepted, one week out of every month would have to be dedicated to this. There is an urgency to "Terms and Conditions May Apply," its editing taut and almost rhythmic in its forward motion, but Hoback offers no solution, probably because there isn't one. Late in the film, Hoback tracks down Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at home, asking for an interview. Only after Zuckerberg believes he is no longer being recorded does the director—and the camera—detect a flash of a smile on his face. It could mean nothing, or, as Hoback surmises, it could be a window into not only Zuckerberg's, but everyone's, desire to still retain a certain confidentiality in their lives. Short of going into the woods and living in an isolated cabin with no electricity, there's no escape from the prying eyes and ears of a society craving information, and knowing just how to get it.
© 2013 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman