Joshua Reviews Cullen Hoback’s Terms And Conditions May Apply [Slamdance Review]


In this day and age, just about everything one truly needs or wants to use online is as free as signing up for a username and a password. However, there’s also one other thing many free services force any given user to agree to, and that’s the site’s terms and conditions. But does anyone truly read the “fine print”? With a wave of text thrust in any user’s face before signing up, is this seemingly knowing disregard for the possible rights given to a company through this agreement safe?

That’s the topic for a new documentary that has premiered at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival entitled Terms And Conditions May Apply. Directed by Cullen Hoback, the small documentary gives the viewer a glimpse into just what cost is accepted when any one person clicks “I Agree” when signing up for a “free” web-based service. Be it iTunes, Twitter or the universal behemoth known as Facebook, these terms and conditions are often ignored, proving that yes, we as a society may do just about anything for the idea of getting something for free in return.

Cinematically, the film is engaging. Hoback uses the occasional flight of fancy, primarily animation, to give the film a sense of life that this type of talking head issue documentary so desperately needs. Shining a light on a topic that is often discussed, but not with regards to this specific aspect (the agreement to these terms by any given user), the film finds enough voices to make it feel as though for its 80-ish minute runtime that we are never being lulled to sleep by the same information repeated.

Intellectually however, is where the film truly shines. While the film very much looks like your average independently produced documentary (and as with most web-focused documentaries, the room for cinematic experimentation isn’t really there), the picture is thought provoking and insightful. An epidemic that really isn’t all that new, this has been an issue we as a society have faced for years, ranging from signing up for an Apple account to signing up for a credit card just to get a free t-shirt from a football game.

It’s also a topic that’s becoming more and more central to our experiences online. When a company like Google decides to re-write their own history by deleting their true first “privacy policy” because it doesn’t agree well with their recent policies, you realize just how important this discussion can be. Facebook will, without batting an eye, change their entire privacy policy, and make it the default for every user. Others will sell information to companies for huge profits. It’s a dangerous time to be online in some ways, and our disregard for these terms and conditions doesn’t make us any safer.

Not the most cinematically expansive documentary you’ll see all year, Terms And Conditions May Apply is a breezy but deeply insightful watch that may not break any news or new ground, but as with any great non-fiction film, it will definitely leave you and any other viewer talking afterwards.

Joshua Brunsting

Josh is a critic, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, a wrestling nerd, a hip-hop head, a father, a cinephile and a man looking to make his stamp on the world, one word at a time.