I Am Still Excited About VR, But not With the Oculus Rift

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Oculus Rift has been the face of virtual reality for a while now. The first dev kit launched in 2012 to spotty support and more than a few jokes about the Lawnmower Man. As the platform developed, more and more people took notice. When Oculus was purchased for $2 billion by Facebook in 2014, most of us knew that VR was about to become a very big deal. With the official release of the Rift last week, some people have noticed some unsettling things about the incredible device.

I'm going to keep this rather brief. The Terms of Service for the Oculus Rift is 90% run of the mill stuff about warranties, health and safety and related companies. However, there are a few items in the Privacy Policy that concern me. I'm not going to go shouting revelations in the street wearing nothing but a sandwich board. I am simply pointing out that if your privacy is of concern to you, that it is important to know some of the specifics of that agreement before you go out and buy an Oculus. 

I'd like to point out the section regarding what data the Oculus collects while you use it. Keep in mind that the Oculus service is always running once installed and sends and receives data from the Facebook domain. This can be blocked from Windows firewall settings but appears to mess with some of the headset's functionality. Now read the section on data collection from the Oculus Privacy Policy, below; 

  • Information Automatically Collected About You When You Use Our Services. We also collect information automatically when you use our Services. Depending on how you access and use our Services, we may collect information such as:
  • Information about your interactions with our Services, like information about the games, content, apps or other experiences you interact with, and information collected in or through cookies, local storage, pixels, and similar technologies (additional information about these technologies is available at https://www.oculus.com/en-us/cookies-pixels-and-other-technologies/);
  • Information about how you access our Services, including information about the type of device you're using (such as a headset, PC, or mobile device), your browser or operating system, your Internet Protocol ("IP") address, and certain device identifiers that may be unique to your device;
  • Information about the games, content, or other apps installed on your device or provided through our Services, including from third parties;
  • Location information, which can be derived from information such as your device's IP address. If you're using a mobile device, we may collect information about the device's precise location, which is derived from sources such as the device's GPS signal and information about nearby WiFi networks and cell towers; and
  • Information about your physical movements and dimensions when you use a virtual reality headset.
Now, to be perfectly clear, I'm not saying that there is anything shady going on here at all. With Facebook's spotty history regarding the privacy of its users, it does give one pause when considering whether or not to invest in the device. I encourage anyone interested in VR to look at some of the other headsets available. With the release of HTC's Vive, the Oculus has a direct competitor with some very compelling abilities. The field of choices is rapidly growing, so you should not feel like the Oculus is your only avenue to experience VR.