VR vs. Data

It has suddenly dawned on me as I begin to write this that the title makes it sound like I’m going to be laying down the law – or should that be Lore? – on Brent Spiner this week on VR vs. I can assure you, however, that’s definitely not the case. But at the very end of last week there was a piece of news dropped by Oculus that raised eyebrows and since it was pretty significant and that I was the one who ended up writing about it I feel slightly duty bound to address it for this week’s column.

Oculus Rift

Now, if you missed the words lovingly typed out by yours truly at far-too-late o’clock on Friday night, the gist of it all is that Oculus launched an update to both their Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.  Primarily it was to address some forthcoming legislation from the European Union; however, as a secondary action it also served to be something of an unofficial acknowledgement of going on in the wider world with regard to privacy and both the ownership and sharing of user data. Something instigated by the woes of Oculus’ own parent company Facebook. Yes, for once it is Facebook causing Oculus VR unintended discomfort and not the other way around. You’d forgive the residents of Menlo Park for chuckling ruefully at that the tiniest bit.

The changes, which included new sections in your account to show just what information is being accessed were for increased “transparency” as the Oculus blog wrote. The section is easy to find; a darn slight easier than its equivalent on Facebook I’d add. You can download the information Oculus have on you and the company even provided details on its policies, detailed how and why it does what it does and even gave some examples users would be familiar with. Again, this wasn’t primarily about the issues with Cambridge Analytica necessarily. But it is. Think of it as Noah, informing all the animals he’ll need two of every kind to step forward for a special project, before adding that – “in other completely and totally unrelated news a new free to enter swimming lessons programme will also be starting this week.”

Whether or not what’s been done is enough is a personal opinion I leave you to form. But that said, surely no one can deny (no comments section, that’s not a challenge) that Oculus has at least tried to be proactive in addressing things before they really kicked off regarding data privacy in VR.

When you think about it there’s a lot about VR data which could prove worrying. It’s bad enough companies knowing my birthday and email address without knowing where exactly I’ve been looking. Don’t forget, YouTube Analytics have been showing heat maps as to where people have been looking on 360 degree videos for almost a year. I wonder how much of that data is directly identifiable to individuals?

As I mentioned in the comments section of that article, I do recommend if you have any concerns to thoroughly read through all the changes and especially the Oculus blog itself, in full. It’s a topic that’s not going to go away and we could all stand to be a little more informed on just what is going on. So, in that sense at least, the changes made by Oculus are very welcome indeed.