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Terms and Conditions May Apply

Recently I watched the documentary featured in the video above on Netflix. I've always been rather interested in Internet privacy. Don't laugh at me, but it probably started when I first watched that movie The Net with Sandra Bullock way back in 1995. Was was all of 12 or 13 years old and the Internet was still a phenomenon in regular culture, but it fascinated me nonetheless. We didn't even own a computer connected to the Internet at that time. Regardless, over the years my fascination with Internet privacy has grown, and over the last few years I've taken more of an interest in privacy with regards to our online lives. 

How many times have we signed up for a service whether it be a social network, retailer, or something of the like and we've been made to accept the terms and conditions in order to use the service? How many times have we actually read those terms and conditions? At this point we believe it all to be the standard legal deal, right? Don't use this for terrorist activities, don't threaten people, don't use it for lewd purposes, don't copy and steal copyrighted material from this service, blah blah blag, ACCEPT. 

The truth is those terms and conditions are never meant to protect the user, in fact, they have more and more ebbed away at your right to privacy while using such services. This documentary brings that reality into a startling light. Facebook, Google, Amazon and many more all with increasingly shady terms and conditions. I feel as though Facebook and Google at the absolute worst offenders of user privacy. The realty is that for Facebook and Google their products are search or a social network... their product is you, the user. They don't make money from a social network or a search engine, they make money by selling ad space on their service to companies, serving those ads up to you based on information they are perpetually gathering from your usage, and then serving those ads up to you and cashing the advertisers checks on the other end. It shouldn't amaze anyone that if you sign into Amazon or eBay, poke around at amplifiers, and then the next day you get an email showing you all the amps for sale on either commerce site. They store your information in order to better serve ads that you're more likely to click on, thus raising their ad revenues. Simple economics. Sadly, we're the products.

I should fully disclose that while I may rail against these services, I do actively use some of them. Facebook for one, because you can't get around the ease of connection to friends and family, or an audience. I refuse to use anything Google related. I think I have a Google+ account because I wanted to see what it was like and got an invitation before it's public launch. I don't even use it. I have a Youtube account, which I don't think I've posted anything to in over a year. I use Amazon only when absolutely necessary. And the last time I used eBay was when my mother dropped off all my old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toys for my son to play with and Raphael had gone missing. Mikey, Donny and Leo were all there, but no Raph. So I bought a replacement off eBay for $6 plus shipping. As far as I'm concerned, Google is one of Satan's minions. 

I'm not much for conspiracy theories, so please don't read this the wrong way. The revelations that have come out of the Edward Snowden case have really opened up the eyes of the general conscious regarding privacy. It made privacy violations very real. And right in the middle of it was Facebook and Google. And, this documentary touches on that issue a bit near the end. It was largely produced before Snowden came to light and had played out to the level it has today. 

One fascinating bit of the documentary revolves around a sidewalk interaction the documentary director has with Mark Zuckerberg, creator and CEO of Facebook. The director approaches Zuckerberg with a camera in hand and Zuck is very cautions, awkward, closed off, and straight-faced. When Zuck asks the director to turn off the camera and the director complies, he fails to realize the director is still rolling by way of a hidden camera in his glasses frames. Once Zuck believes he is safe from the camera, his entire demeanor changes. It essentially does a 180 and he actually smiles at the director, warmly. It's very weird. 

It also touches on how privacy violations and data collections can hit even everyday folks like you or I. In the case of one writer for the now cancelled CBS drama, Cold Case, his information collected through search requests on Google looks like something a deranged man looking to murder his wife would search for. Turns out he was simply doing research for a plot and his wife (who is present in the video) is still very much alive and well. But, if this information is being mined through government programs that are looking to log certain search strings to profile potential threats... you can see how this becomes the larger issue presented in the Tom Cruise film, Minority Report. 

It's a great and somewhat disturbing documentary that will make you think twice about hitting that "accept" key on the terms and conditions next time. And if you are thinking about updating your Facebook App, read this article first. Again, your information is being collected whether you like it or not.