The biter bit

Jul 22, 2013

The film, "Terms and Conditions May Apply" is the work of US-based documentary film maker Cullen Hoback. (see YouTube trailer here). The director came up with the idea for the film when he began to look in detail at the ubiquitous "Terms and Conditions" addenda that so many of us online users routinely click-on without reading any or all of the attached reams of close-packed print that are a pre-requirement to acknowledge before gaining access to a particular service or app.

In general, the T's and C's' that users are supposed to read before signing-up to a service are deliberately dense, obscure and presented in so tiny a typeface as to make reading them all but impossible. And then there's the length: Cullen Hoback claims it would take users 180 hours to read all the Terms and Condtions attached to the use of website services and apps such as Google, Twitter and, of course, Facebook.

The point is, of course that T&C sections are designed that way because the devil is in the details - and that devil is that in signing-up to them users effectively give away their right to privacy in return for access to service or app that, while it might be "free" at point of delivery, is anything but in reality.

For every key stroke or mouse movement made can be logged and every browse and search query logged by companies whose only real purpose in life is to collect your data and sell them to the highest bidder. You are the product and you have a monetary value - that's all there is to it.

Cullen Hoback's thesis is that privacy conditions are worthless. To prove it he makes himself the central character in a quest to find his way through the mazes and thickets of corporate gobbledy-gook that pervade the web. They are supposed to protect online privacy but they have been almost completely subverted to the benefit of the likes of Facebook, Google and their ilk.

Hoback also found it difficult, to say the least, to secure interviews with any of the top brass of the organisations on his shooting script. In the end, after making repeated, (and repeatedly ignored) requests for an interview with Mark Zuckerberg, the film maker resorted to the age of old ploy of doorstepping his subject - and that's when the fun started.

Carrying a video camera he buttonholed Zuckerberg outside home in California and asked him "Do you still think privacy is dead? What are your real thoughts on privacy?"

Zuckerberg asked Hoback to stop filming, and Hoback did so... or at least he switched off the video camera. However, he was wearing another video recording device which continued to tape the exchange.

Now thinking that he was off-camera Zuckerberg relaxed a bit, chatted for a while and suggested that Hoback should contact Facebook's PR team (which he had already done on several occasions) awhere he'd get a full explanation. Needless to say, nothing came of Zuckerberg's invitation.

According to Cullen Hoback, he did what he did to turn the tables on Facebook's founder. In an interview in the latest issue of Filmaker Hoback comments, "I just wanted him to say, 'Look, I don't want you to record me,' and I wanted to say, 'Look, I don't want you to record us'." In other words. what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Exactly what sort of a recording device Hoback was using has not been revealed, but one assumes it wasn't a pair of Google goggles. They are a bit obvious - well, to most people.

Email Newsletters

Sign up to receive TelecomTV's top news and videos, plus exclusive subscriber-only content direct to your inbox.