The Forum series brings filmmaker to campus to talk about digital privacy

Cullen Hoback talks about what it means to accept the terms and conditions of websites and apps used in daily life

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The Forum series brings filmmaker to campus to talk about digital privacy


Director and filmmaker of the documentary “Terms and Conditions May Apply” urged about 300 audience members to care about digital privacy during the Nov. 17 Forum Series presentation in Schofield Auditorium.

Cullen Hoback’s documentary, released in 2013, focuses on how little consumers understand the terms and conditions they accept before using a media outlet. Hoback provided specific instances in which people’s lives were legally made public because they didn’t understand the privacy conditions media outlets, such as Facebook and Google, employ.

In his presentation, Hoback said his goal was to get people to care about digital privacy and recognize that everyone has something to hide.

“I know that I’ve searched for things that I wouldn’t even share in a diary,” Hoback said.

To demonstrate the lack of media privacy, Hoback used information from the public profiles of three potential audience members in his presentation. As he pulled up publically available information on these individuals – Facebook “likes,” profile pictures, tweets – the audience appeared shocked.

Hoback used these examples to drive home how little consumers know about how their personal information can be used when they agree to the terms and conditions of sites claiming to be free.

“If it claims to be free, then more often than not, you are the product,” Hoback said.

After highlighting the three main areas of privacy and what they entail, Hoback shared specific sites and browsers that help protect personal privacy from government and corporate companies who may be looking to access personal information.

“The sites prey on our desire for connection, and this desire causes us to give over information without thinking about the consequences,” Hoback said.

Hoback said when people share things over apps like Twitter and Snapchat, the data doesn’t disappear – users give up the right to that information.

Even when Facebook users do something as simple as search “puppies,” they’re legally allowing potential employers to buy the data points that websites track and give them access to our personal lives, Hoback said.

It’s not limited to employers, Hoback said. He said the government and other corporate companies have access to everything people openly share, and even things they think they’re keeping private because they unknowingly gave them the right to this information.

“You shouldn’t be followed and tracked everywhere you go just because you use the internet,” Hoback said.

Even when the government demands access to people’s digital lives due to supposed safety precaution for instances such as terrorist attacks, more often than not, the information is taken out of context and the surveillance doesn’t protect citizens at all, he said.

“Everybody agrees blindly because we don’t have a say,” Hoback said. “It’s almost social suicide to not participate in these online experiments, but the only way anything’s going to change is if we have some bargaining power.”

Hoback said while it may be scary to see how easily privacy can be breached, if media users put their data where their money is and start demanding more digital privacy, sites are going to recognize the demand and start supplying it.

To conclude the forum, Hoback told audience members they could sign up for his mailing list and receive a copy of “Terms and Conditions May Apply,” which they own and have the right to share.

After the forum, Hoback held a reception and book signing in the Ojibwe Ballroom of the Davies Center where he answered questions and chatted with audience members.