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Documentary Investigates Hidden Dangers For User Privacy On The Internet

posted 12 Jul 2013, 11:02 by Mpelembe   [ updated 12 Jul 2013, 11:03 ]

'Terms and Conditions may Apply,' a documentary by Cullen Hoback, looks to expose how free web applications could be used to gather data on internet users.

 (VARIANCE FILMS) -  Screening at this year's 4th Aruba International Film Festival was the documentary 'Terms and Conditions may Apply.'

Directed by Cullen Hoback, the film investigates what Internet users are agreeing to and how, when they start using supposedly free applications on the web, such as Facebook and Google, and what the possible the implications are for the user.

Hoback's research discovers that there is big business to be done in buying and selling information about individual users, and also explores how that information can be used and accessed by third parties.

He also looks into why many users turn a blind eye to these terms and conditions despite them being readily available to study.

Hoback explains, "You know, it's because Facebook and Google are so ubiquitous, they're so much part of our lives so recognizing the cost of these services would almost cause some kind of cognitive dissonance, so instead of having that kind of cognitive dissonance, I think people don't think about it, they just move on, they click on 'I Agree' and move on and also, what are you going to do? Either you agree or you don't get the service."

The director also reveals how he believes that these issues of privacy need to be revealed, saying "We need to consider data ownership as a right, so that can happen in a few different ways but I think the main way is to put pressures on the companies to say we want access and we want to be able to delete it. The companies will then have to put pressure on the government and say 'Look! Right now we're not allowed to delete this information because of the Patriot Act and FISA and as long as those bills are in place, the whole world is subjected to American law and that needs to change. It's so scary."

The film looks set to attract attention because of the recent case regarding Edward Snowden. He is the whistle-blower who revealed information regarding a US intelligence program to monitor Internet activity.

"We're talking about a guy who was making close to 200 grand a year, he was living in Hawaii, he was living a kind of dream life. And he decided to come out and say this is something that the American people and the world should know about because this is happening behind the scenes and it's fundamentally breaking the Fourth Amendment protections and if it's unconstitutional that's the reason that whistleblowers should be able to exist and I think the amount of unrest and anger people have had in response to this shows what Snowden did was necessary so what do I think of him? I think he's a hero," explains Hoback.

The film features a handful of incidents where Internet users were held by authorities because of messages they wrote, which they believed were private. These include a girl trying to organise a zombie flash-mob, a pre-teen pupil being quizzed at his school in the US by the FBI for writing a naïve tweet, a man having SWAT invade his home for quoting a line from a movie on his Facebook update and a young British man who was held in custody in the US for using the wrong turn of phrase in a tweet.

Using the 2002 Steven Spielberg movie "Minority Report," which sees police arresting murderers before they commit the crime as an example, Hoback says "these data scraping technologies, they took something they said on Facebook orTwitter out of context and then it brought SWAT to their home or the FBI to their school and this is all based around this notion of preventing something from happening and when you get into a "Minority Report" scenario of prevention, it's a very slippery slope. The crime hasn't been committed until it's been committed and if you try to punish someone or you try and stop things from happening, you can stop a lot more than just crime,"

"Terms and Conditions may Apply" begins a limited theatrical release on Friday (June 12) in the United States.