The film Terms and Conditions May Apply didn’t shock or horrify me as much as it probably should have. I came to terms with the fact that corporations are selling my data long ago, and it is honestly hard for me to see another way things could be. As they said in the film, Google sells about $500 worth of data per user per year. There’s no way a company on the scale of Google could exist without making heavy amounts of money, and there’s no way most people could or would be willing to pay a fee like that every year for every website they visit.
I suppose one could also make the argument that participation in their services is voluntary, but it’s hard to believe that’s truly the case anymore. It would be very hard for any individual to function in our society while eschewing any contact with the Internet; perhaps even impossible. How many employers would be willing to indulge your desire to abstain from emails? This does make the situation rather complicated; we now depend on services provided by for-profit corporations that started off as being completely optional. Back when it was wholly voluntary, I would be willing to believe that the data you voluntarily put online should “belong” to the company that is hosting it and allowing you to manipulate it as much as it belongs to you, but is that really a sensible argument now?
I’m also not particularly bothered by the government’s ability to access user data – for example, in the film, I believe it is completely within their rights to investigate someone who is reported to the police for posting threatening messages. What does bother me is the fact that it is so frequently done without a warrant. Although the film gave an example of the police investigating a Facebook status that would definitely cause alarm in people who aren’t die-hard fans of Fight Club, it disturbed me to see that they couldn’t provide evidence of the alleged 911 call that triggered their investigation. I fully believe that it is beneficial for the government to be able to access the data of criminal suspects, but I believe it is completely unconstitutional for them to gather “advanced evidence” against people who have committed no crime. It creates a criminal justice model in which every US citizen is assumed to be a criminal.
On the whole the film confirmed what I already suspected about the state of privacy online. I do believe that the Internet has done quite a bit of good, and I don’t see myself quitting Facebook or Skype, or dumping my Apple products in a ditch any time soon. In a way, I really don’t see myself as having much of a choice, because my long-distance relationship would be made much more difficult without utilizing any of these tools. However, I am alarmed at the “future criminal” model the justice system seems to be moving towards. Maybe I can become a recluse after the boyfriend and I reunite – but then, wouldn’t a total lack of Internet activity in this day and age be considered suspect as well?