Senator Franken clarifies his letter to Oculus

Last week we reported that Senator Al Franken had sent a letter addressed to Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe. This happened not long after some rather interesting wording in the Oculus Rift Terms and Conditions led to concern from many consumers. While Oculus hasn't formally responded to the letter, we reached out to Senator Franken for comments on his letter.

When the news first broke about the letter, many people wondered why the senator from Minnesota would suddenly have an interest in consumer privacy in virtual reality. Plenty of comments popped up all over, asking if he was singling out this company, or if he planned on questioning others on their privacy policies. However, Franken is no stranger to Privacy, Technology and the Law. In fact, he's the senior Democrat on the subcommittee that shares that same name.

We asked Senator Franken about what he thought about virtual reality, and the specific concerns he had about privacy. "Virtual Reality technology is a really exciting development, and I'm eager to watch it grow," said Sen. Franken. "But, as is often the case in the digital age, new technologies can raise questions about things like privacy. I believe Americans have the fundamental right to know what's happening to their personal information. And the Oculus Rift captures precise location data, physical dimensions, and movements of its users, resulting in a unique type of data collection.

Sen. Franken calls out Oculus over privacy concerns

He makes a very good point here. While many services do collect some amount of data from their users, not many go so far as to capture location, physical dimensions, and movement. And with a new type of data collection such as this, it's very important that the end user knows exactly what the data is used for, and who will have access to it. Due to the vague wording of the Oculus Rift's Terms and Conditions, it's hard to determine these things.

Senator Franken went on to say that he "sent a letter to Oculus so that consumers can better understand what the company is doing to protect Rift users. As the top Democrat on the Privacy, Technology, and Law subcommittee, one of my top priorities is to make sure that consumers' data is being properly protected, and I look forward to Oculus' response."

If you're not familiar with the Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, I can't blame you. It's hard to keep track of every single subcommittee around. The group is comprised of 11 members. 6 are Republican, and 5 are Democrats. Below is the official jurisdiction of the subcommittee:

Jurisdiction: (1) Oversight of laws and policies governing the collection, protection, use and dissemination of commercial information by the private sector, including online behavioral advertising, privacy within social networking websites and other online privacy issues; (2) Enforcement and implementation of commercial information privacy laws and policies; (3) Use of technology by the private sector to protect privacy, enhance transparency and encourage innovation; (4) Privacy standards for the collection, retention, use and dissemination of personally identifiable commercial information; and (5) Privacy implications of new or emerging technologies.

In essence, this is the group that keeps track of the privacy concerns with companies like Oculus. What impresses me is how quickly Sen. Franken was able to react to the outcry from customers over these vague descriptions of data collection and privacy. It's also great to see that this wasn't just an act by a single Senator, but something done as a member of a larger subcommittee tasked with protecting user privacy, and ensuring transparency from tech companies.