After Facebook purchased the VR company Oculus in 2014, many in the virtual reality industry were questioning the true motives of the social networking juggernaut.
Why would Facebook - a company that makes the lion’s share of its money through user data-backed advertising - want a VR company?
Since then many have speculated that it was Zuckerberg’s personal interest in the potential of VR hardware that drove the decision rather than being yet another in a long line of strictly money-motivated acquisitions; but some privacy advocates aren’t so sure.
So what should you know about the Facebook/Oculus partnership and how it might affect your personal privacy while you’re exploring virtual worlds through the revolutionary headset?
Read on in our guide to find out!
What Information Does Oculus Collect?
Information You Give Us. We collect the information you give us when using our Services. For example:
When you register to use our Services, we ask for information such as your name, email address, phone number, and date of birth.
You will have the ability to add information to your profile after registration.
If you buy something on or through our Services, we collect information about the transaction. This can include your payment information, purchase activity, and shipping and contact details.
When you post, share or communicate with other Oculus users on our Services, we receive and store those communications and information associated with them, such as the date a post was created.
When you communicate with Oculus, you provide us with information like your email address.
When you use our Services, you may have the option of submitting information about your physical features and dimensions.
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/legal/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.
That last one is where things really start to get spooky. Unlike digital Facebook services which can only gather any information that you directly enter into your computer or mobile device, Oculus can actually collect information on where you physically are in your home. This is a whole new level of data gathering on Facebook’s part, and could theoretically open up a range of privacy violations that break down the walls between where our physical world starts and our digital lives end.
What Can You Do About It?
Nothing, unfortunately. Much like Facebook and its associated products, in order to use Oculus you must agree to the Terms of Service when you first set it up. Refuse and the hardware will lock itself down until you inevitably click that ominous “Agree” button.
What really stings about this is unlike Facebook which itself is a free product (thereby necessitating some kind of user data sales to generate revenue), Oculus has a perfectly good business model on its own simply selling the hardware and making a profit margin that way.
It’s Facebook’s greasy data gathering tactics that have sullied Oculus’ once good name in the VR industry, and driven many faithful away to competing headsets like the Vive instead. That said, if privacy is a top priority for you in your virtual reality world then we recommend going with Valve’s product instead. Unlike Facebook Valve only collects a minimal amount of user data, all of which is only used to help developers improve the experience, rather than sell to third-party marketing agencies.