The advertising algorithms employed by Facebook are the stuff of legend, and for years they have been plagued by privacy advocates as invasive and excessive. Because Facebook is a free service, it is dependent on alternative forms of revenue generation, primarily with the marketing of its user base to those willing to pay. And considering the size of the company and how profitable Facebook is, clearly they are very good at what they do. I’ve accepted long ago that the internet runs on ads, and I’ll admit that I’d rather ads be targeted to me and my interests than simply generated at random. But even I’m taken back when, for instance, I say something about my dog on Facebook and less than an hour later see pet-themed ads, or when I search for something online and quickly see ads on Facebook that reflect that search.
But as I said, Facebook is a free service, so being advertised to is a trade-off that I’m willing to pay for access to the platform. It’s a different story when a device that I’ll be required to pay for, and content that I’ll be required to pay for, is used to market to me. Which is exactly what Facebook plans to use their upcoming Oculus Rift headset to do. Gizmodo took a closer look at the Terms of Service for the device, and what they found was frankly a little terrifying in terms of privacy. It would be expected that Facebook would track certain aspects of users’ Oculus experience, be it purchases or the type of games or experiences used on the device, but it is actually far more intrusive than that. Not only will the device collect data from users while wearing the device, but it will collect A LOT of data:
“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-…);
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.”
Those are some quite broadly drawn statements that could potentially be used for some truly scary privacy violations. Especially when you consider how Facebook plans to use any and all information that they collect from you.
“To market to you. We use the information we collect to send you promotional messages and content and otherwise market to you on and off our Services. We also use this information to measure how users respond to our marketing efforts.”
Again, it is no surprise that facebook wants to market stuff to you, but this isn’t a free service that has a price tag attached to it in the form of advertising, this is a device that users pay for. It is a little absurd that users are buying a $600 device for the privilege of Facebook advertising to them. Tracking purchases, tracking movements and even tracking exactly what they’re doing inside of the VR environment leaves a trail that most users would find troubling. When you combine that with the fact that the Oculus Rift is always on, the company can track you everywhere that you go, even if you’re not using the device but simply have it stashed in your backpack. And even worse, what users do or create while using the Oculus Rift won’t really even belong to them, at least not in any way that matters.
“Our Services may include interactive features and areas where you may submit, post, upload, publish, email, send or otherwise transmit content, including, but not limited to, text, images, photos, videos, sounds, virtual reality environments or features, software and other information and materials (collectively, ‘User Content’). Unless otherwise agreed to, we do not claim any ownership rights in or to your User Content.
By submitting User Content through the Services, you grant Oculus a worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual (i.e. lasting forever), non-exclusive, 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.”
So yes, if users create something inside of a virtual reality environment then Facebook has the right to use it however they wish, and they have the right to sell access to that content to third parties who can use it however they wish. So any artwork made using Oculus apps will essentially belong to Facebook, and what will that mean for private conversations? For business meetings being held in virtual reality environments, will those be considered private or can anything said be used by Facebook to sell an ad somewhere?
What is really worrisome however is the fact that there are no clearly defined limits of what these terms mean and how the information can be used. It may start off, and be explained away by the company, as relatively benign ad targeting. But the terms are not defined as benign, so there are no limits in place to prevent excessive tracking and monitoring. And how long before the NSA or the FBI demand that Facebook hand over detailed tracking records for suspects? I’m not suggesting that Facebook is in any hurry to hand over the keys to the NSA, however it is only a matter of time until demands happen, and the sheer amount of information that can be accessed is frightening.
There are plenty of virtual reality headset options on the horizon, however the first out of the gate will be the long-anticipated Oculus Rift, which is certain to be the industry leader. So it is a little troubling that right out of the gate a new paradigm for privacy is being set for virtual reality devices, and it is unlikely that other manufacturers will not follow suit. You can read the entire Terms of Service for Oculus Rift here. Is this something you could agree to? Discuss in the Oculus Rift Terms of Service forum over at 3DPB.com.