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'Terms and Conditions' tackles online privacy

Film festival entry features Facebook's Zuckerberg and examines ways our personal information can be spread even through a simple 'like' click.

April 25, 2013|By Michael Miller
  • Mark Zuckerberg in the documentary "Terms and Conditions Apply," which is screening at the Newport Beach Film Festival.
Mark Zuckerberg in the documentary "Terms and Conditions…

Cullen Hoback doesn't know what Mark Zuckerberg thinks of his documentary "Terms and Conditions May Apply." But he's already made the Facebook leader smile once.

Toward the end of the documentary, which screens Friday and May 2 at the Newport Beach Film Festival, Hoback does an ambush interview with Zuckerberg, parking outside his Palo Alto home and intercepting him to ask a few questions about how Facebook and other websites affect users' privacy. After Hoback asks a question or two, his unwilling subject asks him to "please not" record the encounter.

The filmmaker, who brought a small camera crew with him, has his team comply — but keeps another tiny camera secretly recording in his glasses. When Zuckerberg thinks he's no longer being filmed, he breaks into a relaxed grin, which Hoback captures in a freeze-frame.

"Mark Zuckerberg smiled at me," he says in the film's narration. "And you know why? Because he thought I had stopped recording."

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Hoback, who said he spent months before that encounter trying to set up an interview with Facebook officials, is no enemy of Zuckerberg or his enterprise. He has a profile of his own on the website, and for that matter so does "Terms and Conditions May Apply," which premiered in January at the Slamdance Film Festival and had amassed 19 "likes" as of Thursday.

What concerns the filmmaker, though, is the privacy that many users risk when they create profiles on Facebook and any number of other sites. Throughout the 79-minute documentary, Hoback tracks the places where personal information can end up: government think tanks, corporate databases, the hands of law enforcement. All those chain reactions can begin just with a user clicking on the phrase "I agree," which fills the screen in more than one eerie close-up.

Sometimes, the material made available by those agreements is merely embarrassing; in one montage, the film shows a series of Facebook posts in which users describe wetting their pants, cheating on spouses and more. Other times, the consequences are more dire. One of the more chilling vignettes involves an Irish man who was detained at an airport upon arrival because he had tweeted about wanting to "destroy" America — slang, in his dialect, for "party."

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