The Silent Loss of Our Privacy: Terms & Conditions May Apply
You enter the iTunes store, search for the newest and trendiest application, and download it. Upon opening the application, a user agreement pops up, and you are prompted to click “agree” in order to be able to use the service.
The agreement is uninviting – the terms are long and written in small print. You are pressed for time and just want to start using your newest download. We have all been here, right? So you decide to briefly skim the terms of the user agreement (or you just skip straight to clicking “agree” – I mean who has time for reading anyway), and you are happily on your way to creating your individual profile and using the service.
In his 2013 documentary “Terms & Conditions May Apply” Cullen Hoback examines the problem of uninviting terms and conditions in user agreements and the publics’ unwitting forfeiture of their privacy rights and consent to increased government surveillance of them. As Hoback eloquently puts it, “We are opting into online surveillance.”
The Format – Its All In The Details:
Hoback interviews a textographer named Brian Lawler, who explained how companies could create terms and conditions in such a way so as to deter users from actually reading them.LAWLER SAYS THAT AGREEMENTS WRITTEN IN SMALL FONTS, IN ALL CAPITALS, AND IN THE “SANS SERA” FONT, ARE ESPECIALLY UNINVITING BECAUSE THE TYPE BECOMES A TEXTURE RATHER THAN WORDS AND SPACES. Look familiar?
If the agreement’s format does not deter users from reading them, then the time commitment might. Hoback estimates that if users actually read the terms in the fine print of every agreement they “agreed” to, they would have to allocate 180 hours (meaning one month) of every year to do so.
The End Game: why are online companies like Facebook and Google working so hard to deter users from reading the terms & conditions?
In his documentary, Hoback gives us a terrifying answer – because there is no money in anonymity. Today, the online collection of user data has become ubiquitous and an extremely profitable business practice. After all, user data can be used to target advertisements and recommend new sites or connections that are tailored to your individual preferences.
Do we have any control over the collection and sharing of our data?
In his film, Hoback discusses how Google collects user data by putting a unique serial number in a cookie; the cookie enables Google to link your name to your online activity (e.g. tracking the sites you visit, the keywords you input online). Google essentially follows you everywhere you go online.
As Hoback pointed out in a recent article in the Huffington Post here, “Internet monoliths such as Google and Facebook turn the Internet into a cog that turns us into a real-time surveillance state and George Orwell into an historian and prognosticator instead of an acclaimed fiction writer.” 
The film makes it terrifyingly clear that our rights are being silently violated. Some of you may not care. You might assume that you have nothing to hide. But, as one interviewee in the film puts it, “you have nothing to hide until you do.”
Another problem is that there are no real alternatives available to us. If we want to use the service then we have to agree to share our personal data. Sure, we have the “choice” to opt out of using Google, the Internet, and services like Facebook, but because these services have become so central to human communication and productivity, the option of opting out is not really workable.
So, in the age of technological innovation and connectivity, how do we control who has access to our personal information? Is it even possible to retain our privacy rights in today’s modern age?
Click Agree and Download Hoback’s film “Terms and Conditions May Apply” for more on this topic.