United States senator grills Oculus on privacy concerns

Al Franken wants to know what Facebook does with your data

Being expensive as hell and manufacturing delays aren’t the only things giving people pause about virtual reality and the Oculus Rift. What if the sweaty, sensory deprivation helmet is also stealing your secret Gin Rickey recipe and learning about that one friend you secretly hate but put up with because he scores you choice krokodil?

After all, Oculus is owned by Facebook, the Rat King of turning data you volunteer, knowingly or not, into money. Plus, remember two years ago when the company tweaked the feed algorithm of about 700,000 users to see if it could manipulate their emotions by showing them certain things in their feed? Facebook makes me sad enough as it is, seeing others live their happy lives. No need to double down, monsters.

United States senator Al Franken, part of a long line of Als with spooky last names (Gore, Bundy, etc), wrote a letter to Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe urging clarification on, “the company’s collection, storage, and sharing of users’ personal data.”

When you first load up the VR face mask you have to sign off on, “a number of unusual stipulations,” according to Fortune, “including Oculus reserving the right to collect user physical movement and locational data and all activity on Oculus-hosted servers.” All of this might be shared with Facebook, according to the verbiage.

“In addition to collecting information provided by consumers, Oculus automatically collects information when the consumer uses Oculus’ services,” Franken writes. “Information about consumers’ physical movements and dimensions, as well as location data, can be shared with ‘other companies that are within the family of related companies that Oculus is a part of.’ The company’s privacy statement also indicates that Oculus may share de-identified or aggregated data with others for any purpose. Furthermore, the information Oculus collects can be shared with third parties to directly market products to consumers on or off Oculus’ platform. When done appropriately, the collection, storage, and sharing of personal information may enhance consumers’ virtual reality experience, but we must ensure that Americans’ very sensitive information is protected.”

Franken has asked for a response by May 13 to questions like: 1) why is it necessary to collect users’ data? 2) can it be assured that this data is being properly protected? 3) is our* data being sold to or shared with other companies?

*Not that I bought one of those fucking things, I got rent to pay.

HTC Vive has avoided these data privacy questions because its software sales come through the Steam store, which has a clearer privacy policy that says the company, “will not share any personally identifiable information with third parties for marketing purposes without your consent.” Though, note the “personally identifiable” qualifier there, similar to Oculus’ “de-identified or aggregated data,” but Oculus’ identifiable clause comes after implying that, “consumers’ physical movements and dimensions, as well as location data” can be shared plainly with Facebook. Meanwhile, there seems to be concern within Facebook over people not sharing enough personal information on the platform anymore as its normalization and ubiquity have led to users tempering what they express on the site (as new media ventures like Snapchat and Instagram become outlets for the kind of content you used to find on Facebook.)

While a lot of people want to “keep politics out of video games,” I applaud Franken for pressing on the matter, even if it’s just a nice little check to keep a multi-billion dollar company honest. Besides, if we kept politics out of gaming we wouldn’t have the vaping congressman spending $1,302 in campaign funds on Steam games.

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Steven Hansen
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