US Senator troubled over Oculus Rift privacy concerns

Senator Al Franken 'respectfully requests' that Oculus address particulars surrounding how its Rift headset gathers, stores, and uses user info by May 13.

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Concerns over privacy in VR headsets continues to snowball. Since the launch of the Oculus Rift earlier this month, the Internet has done its due diligence and proffered evidence that Oculus isn't sharing user information with Facebook or other companies yet, although Oculus admitted that it might in the future.

Yesterday, US Senator Al Franken wrote a letter to Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe requesting details on how Rift collects, stores, and shares user data.

"I believe Americans have a fundamental right to privacy, and that right includes an individual s access to information about what data are being collected about them, how the data are being treated, and with whom the data are being shared," Senator Franken wrote in his letter.

Senator Franken's letter doesn't seem designed to stir up anxiety around VR or other technology. On the contrary, he showed a good deal of genuine interest in the marketplace, and asked pointed to which Oculus should be compelled to provide answers. Senator Franken elaborated on his concerns in the form of six questions spanning topics such as whether it's necessary for Oculus to gather certain data, how long Oculus will retain user data, who is responsible for keeping users informed of how their data is, or may be, used, and what precautions Oculus has in place to safeguard user info.

In an effort to garner answers quickly, Senator Franken gave Iribe until May 13 to respond to his questions.

I'm usually leery of Uncle Sam sticking his nose into games and technology. Just ask Apple CEO Tim Cook for his opinions on how that can go sideways. However, Senator Franken asked intelligent questions in his letter, and anybody remotely interested in VR should want clear, cogent responses to them.

Technology has long since progressed past a point where users are giving companies information tacitly. The more we know about how companies like Oculus and HTC are using—and more importantly, plan to use—our information when we strap on their headset for an activity as innocuous as playing a game, the more informed we can be as consumers, and the more open and honest developers and manufacturers will have to be in turn.

Long Reads Editor

David L. Craddock writes fiction, nonfiction, and grocery lists. He is the author of the Stay Awhile and Listen series, and the Gairden Chronicles series of fantasy novels for young adults. Outside of writing, he enjoys playing Mario, Zelda, and Dark Souls games, and will be happy to discuss at length the myriad reasons why Dark Souls 2 is the best in the series. Follow him online at davidlcraddock.com and @davidlcraddock.

From The Chatty
  • reply
    April 8, 2016 4:00 PM

    David Craddock posted a new article, US Senator troubled over Oculus Rift privacy concerns

    • reply
      April 8, 2016 4:03 PM

      I'm not really sure how VR is significantly different from other media devices and their software in this respect

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        April 8, 2016 4:12 PM

        To them they're all Google glass

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        April 8, 2016 5:45 PM

        The T&C for the rift states that it will upload everything to facebook's servers including other software running on your pc

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          April 8, 2016 6:05 PM

          like I said, it's no different from your phone, PC, console, etc

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            April 8, 2016 6:47 PM

            Indeed but I wouldn't mind other corporations getting asked the same questions.

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              April 8, 2016 6:49 PM

              it's more like 'surely you already have a policy for this and Oculus just abides by it per usual'

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            April 8, 2016 10:56 PM

            facebook knows when we're moving our body to vr porn

      • reply
        April 8, 2016 5:58 PM

        #1 new
        #2 omg facebook

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      April 8, 2016 4:23 PM

      Man, wait til this guy hears what his phone does.

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        April 8, 2016 4:24 PM

        (Though I'd be fine with more consumer protections, don't get me wrong. Just seems silly to single this out.)

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      April 8, 2016 5:03 PM

      Al Franken is usually pretty sound. This seems like a reasonable inquiry into a new technology that he may not be well versed in. He seems pretty well measured in this request.

      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.

      • reply
        April 8, 2016 5:36 PM

        Yeah, compare Franken to your run-of-the-mill Jack Thompson types who are more interested in making names for themselves by drumming up fear of video games.

    • reply
      April 8, 2016 5:38 PM

      As someone with a pre order I appreciate his questions.

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      April 8, 2016 6:38 PM

      On the one hand concerned for our privacy. On the other hand trying to strip away our privacy. GGs Government!

    • reply
      April 8, 2016 7:15 PM

      Lets see what technological thing I can stick my nose in today that I have absolutely no idea about... Oculus rift? PERFECT!

      • reply
        April 8, 2016 7:25 PM

        You didn't read the shack article nor the pdf, I see.

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          April 8, 2016 8:17 PM

          Who the fuck reads stuff before commenting? I see you're new around here

          • reply
            April 8, 2016 8:25 PM

            Heh.

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              April 8, 2016 8:33 PM

              You're right though, Frankens measured inquiry about this was way better than what I thought it was going to be which is typical kneejerk politican response to privacy concerns they know nothing about.

              I should probably start reading shit before I comment but hey, shacknews.

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        April 8, 2016 7:58 PM

        While I agree with your sentiment, Oculus does need to address privacy concerns stemming from its device.

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          April 8, 2016 8:18 PM

          I suppose but it's mostly usage info and nothing personal. The whole 'physical movements and dimensions' thing is kinda weird but I guess we'll see what their response is in the next month or so

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            April 8, 2016 8:19 PM

            and your phone is already tracking your movement and location

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              April 8, 2016 8:20 PM

              Yeah I heard Android does this to figure out street traffic data so I guess it has its uses.

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                April 8, 2016 8:32 PM

                phones are tracking where you parked, what routines you have (hence a notification like 'traffic on the way home looks bad' around when you usually leave work), what stores you visit, etc, etc. Tons of data. Some for features useful to consumers, some for features useful to the platform owner, and some for features useful to others (like advertisers).

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            April 8, 2016 8:24 PM

            Nah, that information is utilized to see if the device is providing a bad experience for tall versus short people. People with tiny heads or big heads.

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              April 8, 2016 8:33 PM

              They call me pumpkin head due to the size of my brain so I present a challenge to Oculus' design team for sure.

              • reply
                April 8, 2016 8:38 PM

                As well as your fellow shack mods

        • Zek legacy 10 years
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          April 8, 2016 10:55 PM

          Why? I don't see how the Oculus is more privacy-sensitive than a phone or smartwatch.

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            April 9, 2016 6:48 AM

            It's not, exactly, but I'll give you two answers to your questions.

            1) Because Oculus has said outright that they don't share info now, but they might in the future. Users deserve to be kept apprised of changes that could lead to their data being shared, and they deserve for the process to be transparent.

            2) More than any other reason, because VR headsets are the hot new thing. They're bound to attract all sorts of attention, good and bad.

            If you read my story and/or the letter, you'll notice that Senator Franken doesn't seem to be trying to instigate scare mongering. He asked great questions that Oculus should be accountable for answering. By being accountable, they'll set a precedent that other companies all across the tech space should also be expected to answer.

            Just because lots of companies share our data (most without asking or making it easy to find out how are data is being gathered and shared) doesn't mean it's right.

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      April 8, 2016 7:31 PM

      Craddock, can you change your grey box description to read 'Occulus has been respecfully requested to respond by May 13th.'

      Seems like a reasonable change and is more accurately representative of the pdf. Given the over reaction by some of the posters so far, it would also be more responsible of you.

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        April 8, 2016 8:45 PM

        I updated it to include the 'respectfully requests' part of the quote, but I'll point out that the only people who "overreacted" in this thread, as of this post, are derelict, who's kind of a troll about this stuff, and to a lesser degree, jingletard, who was being facetious, and who admitted he didn't even read the story before commenting.

        I wasn't trying to be click baity. The way I wrote the description originally was fine. Just this once, I'll capitulate. It won't become a habit.

        • reply
          April 8, 2016 8:48 PM

          I know and I probably could have said "reacted fearfully" rather than over reacted, especially since I called you out on implied word meaning :P

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            April 8, 2016 8:49 PM

            oh, and I also know you weren't being click baity, which is why I figured you'd be amicable to the suggestion.

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              April 8, 2016 8:53 PM

              I appreciate that you think enough of me to know my intentions, and that you felt comfortable enough to broach the subject.

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                April 8, 2016 9:02 PM

                not sure if facetious or sincere /frysquint

                know = assumed in my sentence, if that helps.

                I hope I didn't ruffle you. I like your work and your contribution here for like ever.

                look forward to more.

        • reply
          April 8, 2016 8:49 PM

          Well yeah that's my fault but honestly I've read enough about politicians + technology to assume they're just puffing their chest and talking about something they know nothing about which they usually don't. Hence the ol' series of tubes meme we've come to know and love. Al Franken isn't a typical politician though and after reading the pdf and your story, he brings up some good points. It's not necessarily what data is being collected, it's about what they're going to do with the data after it's been collected and those are good questions to ask.

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            April 8, 2016 8:51 PM

            I'm so used to irc / shack retards responding to headlines or urls without reading that I always read now even before someone posts an assumption. hell, I have probably been one of the tards.

            name changing to antard next girlfriend that finds out I shack

        • reply
          April 8, 2016 8:54 PM

          pps - good find and good article

        • reply
          April 8, 2016 8:54 PM

          oh please

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