‘Terms and Conditions’ takes a close look at technology and privacy
January 18, 2013
Anyone who has bought a smart phone, tablet, eReader or MP3 player knows about the little pop-up window that starts "Terms and Conditions May Apply."
Those words prompted filmmaker Cullin Hoback to investigate exactly what those words mean, and came out on the other side with a film of the same title for this year’s Slamdance Film Festival.
Making the film wasn’t an easy process, Hoback told The Park Record in an interview.
"It started as something completely different and the question I wanted to tackle was how technology is changing or behavior in relationships and, generally, how we think," Hoback said. "I interviewed 20 people and at the end of those sessions, I felt dissatisfied, because I felt something was missing."
Then one night, while Hoback sat at his computer updating his iPhone, that "Terms and Conditions" window appeared on his screen.
He realized that while technology, itself, hadn’t changed, all the things that have developed behind technology was creating an invisible impact the public, especially in personal privacy.
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"So, I started digging through these agreements and tried to figure out what all the legalese means, and if, in fact, these agreements are legally binding," Hoback said. "I mean, here we have thousands of agreements that underlie everything we do in our everyday lives now."
From that point, Hoback followed a rabbit hole of insights that "blew" his mind, and that’s how the film plays out.
"I started out on this topic as a complete novice and had a beginner’s attitude and didn’t really know what a computer cookie was," he said. "I think that’s all a majority of people who use technology know."
So, to bring that perspective to the project helped, because as he worked on the film, Hoback learned some things that bothered him.
"For example, when you delete a comment on Facebook, even though you can’t see it, the words are still recorded in the database," he said. "It’s just hidden.
"We were able to do an interview with someone who lived in Europe and was able to obtain all his data records," Hoback said. "He only had been using Facebook for three years and the data file is more than 1,200 pages long and includes stuff that he had deleted."
Another thing Hoback learned was that there are companies that aggregate all the data and advertise they have 1,500 points of data on the average American citizen.
"To have that kind of detail to drape down 1,500 aspects of one person is incredible," he said.
Hoback began putting things together two years ago.
"For a documentary, it was a quick turnaround," he said. "But since this is a topical issue, it was important to make it at that pace. This is a piece that is really of our time."
Hoback made a wish list of people, who are at the center of the privacy debate, he wanted to interview.
"Orson Scott Card was an interesting case, because he is a science fiction writer, and I wanted to know what he thought about technology in the future," Hoback said.
Then there were other people like Barrett Brown, who is the unofficial head of Anonymous, which is a loose, hacktivist group that uses technology to for political protest, that Hoback interviewed.
"He was also interesting, because he’ on the other end and is considered ‘the underground’ of our times in a way," Hoback said. "He also has had his house raided by the FBI."
Hoback found himself concerned while interviewing people who were being followed by the government.
"There is a lot of monitoring going on and the only way to interview someone safely is in the middle of a wheatfield and the iPhones are locked in the car," he said with a laugh.
Slamdance will screen Cullen Hoback’s "Terms and Conditions May Apply" on Tuesday, Jan. 22, at 5:20 p.m. at the Treasure Mountain Inn Screening Room, and Wednesday, Jan. 23, at 11:30 a.m. at the Treasure Mountain Inn Gallery. Both venues are located at the Treasure Mountain Inn, 255 Main St. For more information, visit http://www.slamdance.com .