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June 07, 2016

Oculus Rift’s ‘Terms of Service’ Raise Questions

This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of AVN magazine. Click here to see a digital edition of the magazine. As the whole VR fan world knows by now, that multi-national, multi-billion-followed social media company, Facebook, bought out Oculus in March of 2014, and in so doing, acquired the company’s Oculus Rift technology. However, Oculus/Facebook’s terms of service have created quite a stir in the online VR fan community—not to mention Congress. The main bone of contention is the company’s claim on user-created content. While admitting that Oculus/Facebook doesn’t own user-created content, nonetheless, the terms of service state, “By submitting User Content through the Services, you grant Oculus a worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual (i.e. lasting forever), non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free and fully sub-licensable (i.e. we can grant this right to others) right to use, copy, display, store, adapt, publicly perform and distribute such User Content in connection with the Services. You irrevocably consent to any and all acts or omissions by us or persons authorized by us that may infringe any moral right (or analogous right) in your User Content.” In other words, if you, as a creator, make content that you created through Oculus’ service, Oculus can do pretty much anything it wants with it, and doesn’t have to pay you a dime for it. And while the company “has no responsibility or liability for User Content made available through the Services,” and “no obligation to screen, edit or monitor such content,” it does reserve the absolute right to “remove, screen or edit User Content at any time and for any reason.” Hence, lotsa luck trying to upload your adult content through Oculus! “Based on the wording of the Terms of Service, a creative developer could make a piece of interactive artwork that Oculus could then use for an Oculus ad without the artist’s permission,” noted Gizmodo’s Andrew Liptak in early April, adding that creative works are how some people earn a living, and it seems clear that Oculus is no respecter of its users’ copyright rights. It doesn’t have a lot of respect for their privacy, either. Since the Oculus Rift is a gadget you use while connected to your computer, while you’re watching Oculus content, those same terms of service allow the company to monitor and automatically collect data on "your interactions with our Services, like information about the games, content, apps or other experiences you interact with, and information collected in or through cookies, local storage, pixels, and similar technologies," not to mention, "how you access our Services, including information about the type of device you’re using (such as a headset, PC, or mobile device), your browser or operating system, your Internet Protocol (“IP”) address, and certain device identifiers that may be unique to your device"; not to further mention, "Information about the games, content, or other apps installed on your device or provided through our Services, including from third parties." As you may have heard, information privacy is kind of a big deal these days and many people (including Congress) have been talking about how to limit private companies' access to such information—and it's in the face of such concerns that Oculus is staking out its territorial rights even to the extent of stating right up front that it may monitor not only what you're watching, but also your location (IP address or mobile device's GPS signal), the WiFi networks and cell towers near you, and even "Information about your physical movements and dimensions when you use a virtual reality headset"! And if you agree to Oculus' terms of service, you're agreeing to all that! One of those concerned about those terms is Minnesota Senator Al Franken, who on April 7 wrote to Oculus VR CEO Brendan Iribe, stating in part, “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.” He went on to ask several questions, including why Oculus needs to know where its users are located, what their “physical movements and dimensions” are, and why it has to eavesdrop on conversations between users? The entire letter can be found here. The company responded to Franken in a heavily self-promotion-laden letter, stating that “maintaining people’s trust is critical,” and that “privacy and security are core to our product and company principles.” As to Franken’s specific questions, Oculus maintains that its location-based information collection is “necessary for Oculus to provide services to people around the globe,” noting that certain apps and content may be banned from certain areas—a ban which Oculus respects—and that knowing a user’s location allows it to customize language and pricing to the user’s area. However, with respect to Oculus collection of users’ “physical movements and dimensions,” the company claims that they’re a “necessary tool to deliver a safe, comfortable, and seamless VR experience[] to people,” and calls it “the core of providing an immersive and realistic virtual reality experience.” But as to how long it retains and stores users’ information, the company essentially says it will retain such data until the customer him/herself asks that it be removed. It also claims that it shares “de-identified and aggregate data” with others (including its owner, Facebook) in order to aid in future VR product development, and states that it has “implemented numerous state-of-the-art security systems designed to protect people’s information and keep our networks secure.” However, considering some of the massive information hacks that have taken place at companies like Target, Anthem Blue Cross, Sony, Kmart, JP Morgan and even the U.S. government, Oculus’ words may not quiet customers’ (or Franken’s) fears. The entire Oculus response can be found here. Photo of VR goggles at the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo by JFK/FUBARwebmasters.com

 
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