Horror film puts Internet privacy under spotlight


Mark-ZuckerbergWashington: Stalking isn’t Cullen Hoback’s style, but the chance to confront Mark Zuckerberg about the dark side of the Internet was just too good to pass on.”Mr Zuckerberg? I’m working on a documentary,” the independent filmmaker asked the Facebook founder, strolling in a T-shirt and jeans on the leafy sidewalk outside his southern California home.

“I was wondering if I could just ask you a couple of questions? Do you still think privacy is dead? What are your real thoughts on privacy?””Are you guys recording?” Zuckerberg sheepishly replied. “Will you please not?”

“I can stop,” said Hoback, switching off his video camera, prompting Zuckerberg to loosen up, smile and invite Hoback to connect with Facebook’s PR team — unaware that Hoback was still recording with a pair of spy glasses.

It’s a telling scene in “Terms and Conditions May Apply,” in which Hoback raises disturbing questions about the mountains of online data being collected, shared and stored by governments and Internet giants alike.

The title derives from the rambling fine print most Internet users never bother to read when they sign on to a new online service or app — blissfully ignoring that they’re entering into a legally binding contract.

“I think the craziest thing about this whole experience is that I didn’t realise I was making a horror film,” the Los Angeles-based Hoback told AFP in a telephone interview.

Its release dovetails, by coincidence, with revelations from former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden about the global scale of US online surveillance.

Snowden, currently stuck in a Moscow airport hoping for asylum, has revealed how major telephone companies are sharing customers’ call data with the NSA, the secretive US electronic intelligence service.

He also lifted a veil on the PRISM program that enables the NSA to issue directives to Internet services like Google or Facebook for access to non-Americans’ emails, online chats, pictures, files and videos.

“I think there was already a pretty strong concern in the population” about online privacy, Hoback told AFP.

“But everything that’s happened around Snowden and the PRISM scandal and the consistent revelations that are coming out right now are, I think, elevating interest in the film to a whole new level.”

Two years in the making, “Terms and Conditions” was pretty much complete by the time Snowden came forward, leaving Hoback just enough time to tack a quick mention of the whistleblower onto the end of his film.

“The story is constantly evolving, and it’s hard sometimes to put the keyboard down and stop editing,” he said.