Facebook's Oculus Rift Sounds an Awful Lot Like a Tool for Surveillance

Facebook's Oculus Rift Sounds an Awful Lot Like a Tool for Surveillance
Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

In all of the excitement around virtual reality, it's easy to forget that Oculus VR is owned by Facebook. But take one look at Oculus' policies and it becomes obvious.

If you dig into the fine print, the VR headset built to transport you to new worlds actually transports quite a bit about your world into corporate hands, Gizmodo noticed over the weekend.

Let's start with Oculus' Terms of Service, which looks a lot like Facebook's policy about owning your photos:

By submitting user content through the services, you grant Oculus a worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual (i.e. lasting forever), nonexclusive, transferable, royalty-free and fully sublicensable (i.e. we can grant this right to others) right to use, copy, display, store, adapt, publicly perform and distribute such user content in connection with the services. You irrevocably consent to any and all acts or omissions by us or persons authorized by us that may infringe any moral right (or analogous right) in your user content.

In summary: If you make original, creative work using your Oculus Rift, it belongs to Oculus.

Maybe that doesn't sound so alarming, because you were just planning to use your Oculus to play video games or have sex with machines. But Oculus' privacy policy makes it clear what kinds of information your device will collect from you: your location, home IP address and the way your body moves while using it, to name a few.

— 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;
...
— 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 Wi-Fi networks and cell towers; and
— Information about your physical movements and dimensions when you use a virtual reality headset

Why does Oculus want to collect so much personal data about where you are, what you're using your device for, your nearby cell towers and what gadgets you own? 

The same reason Facebook wants it.

"We use the information we collect to send you promotional messages and content and otherwise market to you on and off our services," the Oculus privacy policy said. "We also use this information to measure how users respond to our marketing efforts."

Given how Facebook treats your behavior in its other services, we shouldn't be surprised.