The Oculus Rift finally launched and started shipping first to Kickstarter backers, and simultaneously to folk who pre-ordered the system, on 28 March 2016. This is the final consumer variant of the head-mounted VR headset that essentially started the trend of companies seriously investing into a HMD (head-mounted display), and it’s the result of years of engineering, and money from Facebook, to finally come to market. Therein lies the rub, you see – with Facebook involved, everyone was guessing how the Rift would be affected by the social networking giant, particularly because Facebook’s main revenue stream is serving adverts to you. Well, as it turns out, using the Rift and its features requires you to sign a EULA that allows the Rift to send information to Facebook’s servers in order to better sell you adverts and send you promotional content.
The terms and conditions of the software you install when getting started with the Rift is quite a short read, and it’s been up and available on the website for quite a while, so it should be no surprise to anyone who ordered their Rift about halfway through February 2016, although it may be a dealbreaker to those of you who ordered one through Kickstarter as a backer, and who views their privacy as something to be respected and protected from any third parties.
“We use the information we collect to send you promotional messages and content and otherwise market to you on and off our Services,” the terms read. “We also use this information to measure how users respond to our marketing efforts.”
This isn’t all that different from the whisperings from inside Microsoft that Kinect 2.0 on the Xbox One would be used to spy on you, to serve you better adverts, as well as to charge you appropriately per head when renting a movie online. Given the market Facebook is in, as well as the initial reason why they bought Oculus in the first place (who wouldn’t want VR advertisments in their HMD?!), I think that this was to be expected the moment that the company was bought by Facebook.
I skimmed through the EULA and there are a few other interesting things to note, if you’re still keen on using a Rift in the future.
What information does Oculus collect about you?
Registration information when you use the software, including your name, e-mail address, phone number, date of birth
Information about transactions you make on the Oculus web store
Data generated by you when you post, share, or communicate with other Oculus users via Oculus’ services, including the contents and details about such posts (although this is most likely referencing an online forum of some kind)
Details about your personal features and dimensions (optional)
What information is collected from you when you use Oculus services?
Information about how you access Oculus services, which includes information about your device and what browser, OS, or ISP you use
Information about the games, content, and other applications already on your computer or installed through the Oculus services
Location information derived from analysing your IP address, as well as precise location using GPS if accessing services through Wi-Fi
Information about your physical movements and dimensions when you use the headset (which makes making #4 in the first section above pointless)
Who’s able to use this information?
General public, which is basically only your Oculus ID or username, avatar, and any other information you choose to share
Developers and online content providers that you access via Oculus’ services (though you choose if they have access or not)
Related companies that are legally part of the same group as Oculus, such as Facebook, Atlas Solutions, Instagram, Mobile Technologies Inc. (Jibbigo), Onavo.com, Parse.com, Moves (Moves-App), Liverail, and Whatsapp
Vendors and service providers who work with Facebook to support the Oculus services that you use
Third parties in connection with certain business transactions (e.g. the sale, merger, acquisition, or bankruptcy of Oculus as a company)
Other third parties who are unrelated to Oculus or Oculus services, but only with your consent
A lot of this isn’t necessarily scary, and much of it isn’t new either, especially if you’ve ever looked at the much scarier terms and conditions on Facebook itself. For those of you who value their privacy, even alternatives like the HTC Vive or Samsung Galaxy Gear isn’t an answer, because both companies’ HMD programs collect similar data in order to figure out how you’re using it, and what’s not working properly.
People might just be overreacting because they’ve been made to think constantly about issues surrounding privacy in the past few years, in which case the problems surrounding the Rift’s collection of data might end up dogging its long-term prospects thanks to overblown fears of mass government surveillance. This will be an interesting company to keep an eye on, methinks.