Documaker Cullen Hoback efficiently amps audience paranoia about the purposeful erosion of privacy in the digital age in “Terms and Conditions Apply,” a briskly cautionary and slickly packaged docu that could score some bookings in brick-and-mortar venues before wide dispersal on smallscreen platforms. Deftly balancing twin goals of informing and entertaining, the pic matter-of-factly details the various ways that marketers, multinational corporations, police departments and government-run intelligence-gathering organizations obtain and exploit info that people freely (and, more often than not, heedlessly) share and showcase via cell phones, websites and social media.
Darkly comical segments illustrate how, in the post-9/11 world of heightened security and ever-more-intrusive surveillance, a standup comic who quotes “Fight Club” on Facebook while venting mock-murderous wrath against an Apple store might wind up visited by a SWAT team, and how an Irish tourist who tweets a cheeky vow to “destroy America” (by nonstop drinking during an L.A. holiday) could be viewed as a possible terrorist and detained after his U.S. arrival.
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But Hoback’s doc is even more unsettling as it reports, in a tone at once calmly understated and arrestingly insistent, how government agencies are methodically expanding their ability to monitor virtually all digital communication (including tweets, texts, emails and phone calls), thanks in part to legislation like the Patriot Act in the United States — and with full cooperation from outfits like Google, AT&T and AOL.
As a result, the pic reports, street-theater protesters can be rounded up by London police long before they even begin demonstrations near a royal wedding — not unlike the way would-be murderers were apprehended in “Minority Report,” one of several dramatic features shrewdly excerpted throughout the docu.
“Terms and Conditions” offers scant reason to hope for an end, or even controls, on threats to privacy, and assigns blame to everyone from President Obama, chided here by interviewees for his alleged campaign against whistleblowers, to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who appears remarkably poised during an all-too-short ambush interview.
The only real defense, Hoback suggests, is increased caution on the part of heretofore naive individuals who have been sharing too much of themselves too often online.
As MIT social studies professor Sherry Turkle notes, there can be such a thing as too much honesty: “In most relationships in your life, it’s very good that the other person doesn’t know everything you’ve ever said or scribbled or thought.”
And it’s better, and much safer, when people you don’t know know even less.