How Private do You Think You are in a Virtual World?

After Oculus released their first few headsets to the consumer, it’s worth paying some attention to the legal consequences that exist for early adopters. As we all know from updating our trusted smartphones, every update comes with a new set of legal terms and conditions that we all read from top to bottom. Got you there, didn’t I?

Of course, pretty much the only people to read these conditions are lawyers. Either they write them or read them to write similar conditions for other products. These terms are to prevent any future law suits of any kind. So it is very interesting to see what these terms include for the newly released Oculus Rift and the Oculus services. The terms and conditions are published on the Oculus website and include the Oculus privacy policy published separately.

VR public or private

When the first devices were delivered to the public, some publications (The Independent) noticed that there was software installed that allowed Oculus to collect information on the user while wearing and using the Oculus Rift headset. This raised the question of what Oculus is doing with this data. If you are interested in what Oculus can really do with the collected data, just go to the privacy policy website and search for the term ‘Information’. The 81 matches tell you exactly what Oculus can do with it.

Of course, Oculus will do all great things with the gathered information to improve the service and usability of the hardware and services. I doubt that anyone will object to product improvements driven by user data. We are pretty much used to this by now. The real question is, what else will the data be used for?

Any data collected during your usage (including your ‘physical movements’) seems to be fair game for Oculus. This means you move, they know it. There is also other data collected and shared with certain companies. First of all, companies that are owned by the same owner (Facebook) can access all data for whatever purpose they may have; there is no limitation. Other companies that provide services to Oculus users may access this data as well. In addition, Oculus warns that third party providers may also have access to certain data that is collected within the third party software. This information is subject to their own rules, which will require you to read another set of terms of conditions.

They can and will use all this information to market their products and services to you in any way they see fit. So far, not really any surprises. This all sets a legal framework that will be filled as more and more users start to use the Oculus services. As I have mentioned many times before, we are entering a new paradigm for human computer interfaces and we have to learn what is acceptable and non-acceptable behavior.

As some early studies are indicating a stronger relationship between VR and human behavior compared to regular monitors, we have to see what kind of content is considered unacceptable behavior. For example, if flying a drone via a VR headset is acceptable if you are part of the military but not acceptable in an open consumer setting, we can expect more legal guidelines will be needed in the future. And as a side note, the Oculus terms and conditions specifically exclude pornography from ‘acceptable use’. – NH