Hi Reddit, we're Cullen Hoback and Christopher Soghoian and we're here to talk about digital privacy, Cullen's new movie, and whatever else you feel like talking about. Terms and Conditions May Apply investigates the privacy rights and civil liberties we unknowingly give up every time we hit "accept" to companies' terms and conditions. The documentary includes interviews with Mark Zuckerberg, Moby, Douglas Rushkoff and more.

EDIT: Thanks to everyone who joined this AMA! If you're interested in the topic of digital privacy and want to learn more, check out the movie "Terms and Conditions May Apply" in theaters Friday, July 12th. http://tacma.net/

Also, if you want to know how to take action, check out http://www.trackoff.us/, where you can educate your lawmaker about digital privacy rights. Follow Trackoffus news at https://twitter.com/trackoffus. Have a good one!

Comments: 141 • Responses: 32  • Date: 

SanchoPandas12 karma

Thanks for doing this guys! I have loved the ACLU since I first heard about them and actually got to see TACMA at an early screening (Slamdance) and it was great!!

So my question is, given the fact that my data is already bought and sold on a regular basis, what can I do to reclaim my own information? Is it too late? Do I just need a new identity?

cullenhoback13 karma

I'd like to see two things happen. First, we should at least have access to all of the information that these companies have on us. Second, I'd like to see users have the right to control that data. In other words, the data that Facebook or Google has should be considered property of the user. Users should be able to take it, exchange it, and delete it as they see fit. Obviously this would require a dramatic shift in terms of how both corporations and the government approach user data, but it's possible.

In the meantime, sign petitions that demand change, get a cabin, or both.

Irrelevant_pelican9 karma

Hi! I'm excited for the movie but there's nothing near me. Will there be more screenings? Maybe one near DC?

cullenhoback16 karma

We are working on dates for DC. In the meantime you can request a screening via Tugg. We also have a campaign right now at trackoff.us to petition Congressmen to see the film. I don't think most people sitting on Capitol Hill have a strong understanding of how these systems work, which is a bummer since they're writing the rules.

CanadianVelociraptor9 karma

When making Terms and Conditions May Apply, did anything surprise you about the legal policies of software companies? What can these companies do to get users more involved when accepting ToCs?

cullenhoback17 karma

What still surprises me is that companies can change the terms at any time. What contract would you ever sign where the other party can change the agreement later? You wouldn't.

MiKeMcDnet9 karma

Do you believe that this will, in the long run, hurt the US IT economy. The German president has already warned the EU service providers to pull data out of the US, as we cant be trusted.


concerned cloud server analyst.

cullenhoback7 karma

I think that the first question should have always been (and still should be), are these systems violating our civil liberties? If the answer is yes, then it doesn't matter if they're stopping terrorism or bolstering the economy. Innovation should be the most logical response to these revelations and could, in fact, usher in new opportunities with privacy at the forefront.

NathanDavidWhite7 karma

How long did it take to make the film?

cullenhoback10 karma

About 2 years. It felt like a race against the clock, with privacy ticking away by the second.

greeneyedmaple7 karma

Do YOU read the terms and conditions??

cullenhoback9 karma

Most terms and conditions are actually very similar, so not anymore. But basically, the "free" services seem to have the most onerous and unreasonable terms and privacy policies. The deeper problem is of course government access. And though you can find this line item buried within the terms, it's really things like FISA and the Patriot Act that require it. The companies are just cough cough complying.

melimelo31317 karma

Hey guys ! Thanks for doing this movie. I'm studying law in France and specializing in privacy, especially on the internet and I think it's really important to tell people about it. Will you show the movie in France, or in Europe in general ?

cullenhoback9 karma

Important field to be working in, you may actually have a job in the future. And yes, we're working on it. We don't have all of Europe sorted out yet, but I imagine within a few months it will be available to you either on TV or through various Internet means. Or you can just get it illegally.

melimelo31314 karma

Haha yes sure, but I actually want to pay for it this time. Can't wait to see this movie !

cullenhoback2 karma

I hear anticipation only makes it better. Or is it the other way around?

QuimLiquor7 karma


cullenhoback13 karma

Of course I did. And probably 27 other times before I actually read the thing.

Caelumsky7 karma

Does the "terms and conditions" enforceable in court? I mean there is no way the customer can disagree with the term, some don't even show you the terms you are agreeing to unless you go to a new web pages. How about new terms? They just send you a email saying there's new terms and conditions, it's not like we can even agree on those.

cullenhoback10 karma

So far terms and conditions agreements are considered legally binding and enforceable in court, at least in the US.

TearsOfAClown277 karma

What is he most shocking terms and/conditions you've seen that were actually applied?

cullenhoback12 karma

Go to duckduckgo and type in "getty images scam".

unhelpful_commenter6 karma


cullenhoback10 karma

It would, in fact, take you 180 hours every year to read everything you agree to. Hope you're up for a part-time job.

Until we see some legislative change, there are various tools I'm sure many redditors could recommend.

rmorabia8 karma

Try TOS;DR. They're expanding rapidly, and although you may have to read some terms still, the major ones are covered here, or will be covered soon.

cullenhoback3 karma

Have an upvote.

ak007bond6 karma

How much do you think the average internet user knows about where there information is going online and how it's being used?

Also, is there any way to protect your privacy/data without avoiding the use of major web apps and social networks?

cullenhoback8 karma

Part 1) Redditors are some of the more skilled on the web, and I hear this accounts for 6% of all users. But beyond that, I think the level of awareness is shockingly low. Just the fact that the Snowden leaks have been seen as revelatory I think speaks to that point. Though some parts blew my mind.

Part 2) There are tools like Ghostery, Duckduckgo, Disconnect, Firefox, Tor, etc. that can help.

WuTangTan6 karma

What was the most interesting interview or piece of an interview that we won't see in Terms and Conditions May Apply and why was it left out?

cullenhoback10 karma

I had a shot setup with the CEO of Magnetic, a company that, according to their website "empowers advertisers and publishers to use search data as the key indicator of intent and retarget campaigns to the most relevant audience online". I had a series of questions related to how our data moves behind the scenes, the value of that information, etc. When their CEO found out what the name of the film was, he walked away before the interview even began.

cullenhoback9 karma

Also, the aftermath of my encounter with Mark Zuckerberg.

cullenhoback8 karma

Well, he told me to go into their headquarters and set up an interview, so that’s what I proceeded to do. The conversation between the receptionist and myself went something like this:

Her: “Hi, can I help you?”

Me: “I’m here to set up an appointment with Mark Zuckerberg.”

Her: “Oh?”

Me: “Yeah, I talked to him this morning, and he said to come by and set up an interview.”

Her: “You talked to him this morning?”

Me: “Yeah.”

Her: “You talked to Mark?”

Me: “Yes."

Her: “Where?”

Me: “On his way to work.”

A look of dread crosses her face.

Her: “Hold on.”

It was at this point I thought that news must have spread that a crazy filmmaker had confronted Mark on his way to work.

Now, I had been in this office before; I had tried many, many times to get anyone at Facebook to talk to me about their privacy policies. So you must imagine my shock when they actually bother to take my phone number and say they’ll “be in touch.” I then tell her they can just use my Facebook profile.

The sequence just didn’t fit in the film (and I didn’t have permission from the receptionist to use the footage). I’m still waiting for that interview.

buttercup13035 karma

Is digital privacy really dead?

cullenhoback8 karma

If Google Glass somehow becomes ubiquitous, then yes. Until then, there's hope.

greggman2 karma


cullenhoback3 karma

If you adhere to this philosophy, then we need to figure out how to build these technologies in a way that preserve our civil liberties and keep our thoughts our own.

nyITguy5 karma

I had to sign up for reddit to engage in this conversation. I didn't bother to read the terms for use of the site...I wonder what I just signed away?

cullenhoback6 karma

You could always read them...

NathanDavidWhite8 karma

reddit actually put a lot of thought into their Terms and Conditions. They even brought in an expert from EFF to help make sure they were user privacy oriented.

cullenhoback8 karma

True. I think they're the best I've seen.

workingfisch5 karma

Mr Hoback,

I look forward to seeing your movie. Obviously in the light of recent NSA news, I think we would all like to hear you describe in your own words your perfect Sunday.

cullenhoback18 karma

Brunch in sandals with Edward Snowden.

Renegade_Meister2 karma

Any preference on the country you would most like to meet him in?

cullenhoback7 karma

The USA.

g4lt5 karma

So, if it's important to read Ts and Cs, what do you say about the apocryphal easter egg Ts and Cs that have a giveaway or something embedded in them that goes years or decades unclaimed?

cullenhoback6 karma

Happy hunting.

wittnera3 karma

Eric Snowden: whistleblower or traitor?

cullenhoback5 karma

Hero and patriot.

librarianry2 karma

Thanks for taking all of our questions, guys.

What are your thoughts on librarians instructing/educating the public through programs and classes on digital privacy rights? What would you recommend for library professionals to focus on in trying to get everyone to understand the do's and dont's regarding their digital privacy?

cullenhoback5 karma

I think that the film will actually be quite helpful as an educational tool. We're also developing a packet to be used in academic environments to engage students.

getbetternow2 karma

Don't most companies make their terms and conditions through consultation of a lawyer? Why are they usually so long and unreadable?

cullenhoback4 karma

They're long and unreadable for a mixture of reasons. User agreements are designed to protect the company, not the user. The length and font choices also effectively hide the nature of the trade we're making, as well as aspects of surveillance. By being so long, few people read them. This allows companies to take just about whatever they want. Unfortunately, this is a one-sided agreement and we presently either get the service, or we don't.

I think a warning label system that's clear, concise, and shows how your data would be handled could be an effective solution to raising awareness, but it wouldn't solve the overall problem.

October31st2 karma

What are your thoughts and opinions about the internet hacktivist group Anonymous. Everything they have fought for, and still do, correlates with the same types of things the ACLU fights for and against. Thanks.

cullenhoback1 karma

I'd like to see Barrett Brown released as soon as possible.

juanjing2 karma

A lot of people are 100% sure that Prism is unconstitutional. Is it?

I understand that there are innumerable arguments to be made about how unethical it is, and how it violates our presumed privacy, but is it unconstitutional?

cullenhoback3 karma

Is the government allowed to search your mail without a warrant?

FrostMonstreme1 karma

Are shrink wrap agreements and EULAs really about 'digital privacy rights'? People voluntarily turn over information because they want to get valuable services. If merchants engage in out and out fraud, they can be criminally prosecuted. Reputation constrains legitimate companies from engaging in shady behavior short of criminality. Isn't it odd to address information that people routinely give away without a thought in order to play Farmville under the rubric of 'rights'?

cullenhoback3 karma

It's probably more reasonable to say that privacy policies aren't about protecting privacy at all, but rather, taking it away.

slimsalabim1 karma

So how tall is the Zuck in person?

cullenhoback8 karma

About 6,000 pages worth of user data, if you stacked it. So 3-4 users' worth, depending on how long they've been a member and frequency of use.

superbinx1 karma

Cullen, what were you most surprised to learn in your investigation?

cullenhoback2 karma

That Mark Zuckerberg walks to work.