Is SIFF Being TOO Curious With Festival Data?

Last week, the doc Terms and Conditions May Apply was shown at SIFF, making the case that insidious information technology has rendered privacy dead.

And as ex-Seattle Times reporter Glenn Nelson notes with no little sense of irony, SIFF passholders like him scanned a bar code as they entered the theater for a system that has begun keeping records on what movies attendees took in this year, for purposes that haven’t been made completely clear.

“I know personal data privacy and security is front of mind in society,” Nelson says, “and SIFF’s approach has not followed any standards.”

“This has been a behind the scenes cat-fight.”

As Nelson tells it, the barcode system became a point of discussion amongst passholders during pre-festival screenings not because of privacy concerns, but because it was considered a new hassle.

“A lot of passholders are prickly,” he says. “When you start scanning their passes, they start protesting because they think it’s inconvenient. [SIFF responds] ‘We’re just doing a head-count. We’re not collecting data.’”

However, after those screeners, Nelson and other went online to find his SIFF page populated with lists of movies he saw.

“Which means they’ve been collecting data, at least our choices in movies we are seeing,” he says.

To be clear, Nelson isn’t accusing SIFF of misusing the data. But he does say the festival has been blithe in beginning to track viewing patterns without getting any consent, nor having a written privacy policy.

Nelson, who’s worked at a number of websites since leaving the Times, says “the first thing you do is you do your privacy and your terms and conditions. It’s surprising to me that something like SIFF doesn’t even have one,” he says. “They certainly didn’t decide the day before that they were going to have bar codes and scanners.”

In a written statement, SIFF says the new system conincided with the launch of its new website, and that many SIFF-goers has expressed interest in being able to track what movies they’d seen.

The statement also stated that it has not, and does “not intend in the future,” to pass any of the information to third-party members.

A privacy policy has since been crafted – though it will be reviewed over the summer for possible changes – but Nelson says concerns remain. There’s still an implied opt-in – in other words, you have to work to opt-out of the system – and doing so causes a host of problems with claiming benefits and perks with the membership.

But as Terms and Conditions suggests, that’s the new paradigm in our online world: A wonderful world waits online, and the only price is your privacy.

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