Senator Franken calls out Oculus over privacy concerns

Just yesterday I wrote a piece regarding the Terms and Conditions that every Oculus Rift user has to agree to. In those Terms and Conditions were a few parts that had some users concerned, as the guys at UploadVR found when they went digging through it. These were primarily related to data that would be collected, and potentially shared with other companies, such as Facebook. Well today, Senator Al Franken has sent a letter addressed to Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe to address some of those concerns.

As I mentioned yesterday, Oculus had responded to criticism about the Terms and Conditions by attempting to clarify them. Unfortunately, their clarification did little to ease the concerns of most people. This is because in the closing paragraph of the statement, they state that they are "not sharing information with Facebook at this time" and "Facebook is not using Oculus data for advertising – though these are things we may consider in the future."

Oculus "may" use data for advertising, but when?

This type of language is the sort that allows them to honestly tell everyone that they're not selling your data for advertising, while also being something they can point to in the future and say "we did state that this could be a possibility" when they eventually do sell your data. While that might work in some cases, many people aren't buying it. In fact, Minnesota Senator Al Franken penned a letter to explicitly address these concerns.

Senator Franken opens his letter by praising Oculus for their work in creating an immersive virtual reality experience. He then immediately went into his concerns for the privacy of the American people, and addressed the concerns that many of us have shared regarding what information is collected, and how it will be used.

In his letter, Senator Franken asked six total questions that he requested be answered by no later than May 13, 2016. Let's go ahead and break them down.

These two questions are closely related, enough so that they may have been able to be wrapped up into one. But since it's possible that the location information may be used for different purposes than the physical movements and dimensions. I really like these questions, because while Oculus does say that they're collected for the purpose of providing services, there is a lot of wiggle room for them to also use that information in other ways. Perhaps Facebook could use this information to provide targeted ads based on your location, and your physical proportions.

This is one that we didn't actually address yesterday, but is definitely important. With the knowledge that all of your communication with friends and other players is stored on a server somewhere, it might make people wary of saying the wrong thing, for fear that the information could be dug up later, and used out of context. Personally, I prefer to communicate through means that are as secure as possible. Knowing that Oculus may be storing my conversations definitely doesn't make me want to use their service for any more than the most basic communication.

I like this one, mostly because in answering, the issue of Oculus and Facebook both trying to blame the other for poor communication to customers is virtually eliminated.

I think we all expect the answer to be "No, not currently," and "for advertising purposes."

This is perhaps my favorite question outlined by the Senator. Because of the wording in the Terms and Conditions, they're basically saying that they can't be held responsible for anything that happens to all of this data that they're collecting. After all of that legalese about collecting your information, now they're saying "but if something happens and your private information is exposed, you agree that we are not responsible for it." And if you want to use that device that you just shelled out $600 for, you have to go ahead and agree, without knowing anything about the security measures that they have in place to protect your data.

Al Franken may have once been a funny guy that made us laugh back on Saturday Night Live, but he's done a lot of great things since taking office back in 2009. I'm happy to see him tackle this particular issue, especially since VR is currently in its infancy. Some sort of privacy scandal could easily unravel so much of the work that so many companies have done for the industry. After all, no one is going to want to strap on a headset if they're worried about Facebook or some other company keeping track of everything they see, do, and experience while it's on.

If you'd like to read the letter in its entirety, you can see the PDF file on Senator Franken's website, here.