Oculus Users Freak Out Over VR Headset's TOS, Though Most Of It Is Boilerplate
from the watching-the-watchers-watch dept
So Facebook’s Oculus technically “launched” the Rift VR headset on March 28, and while the press generally seem to like the gear, the launch itself hasn’t been going particularly well. Most users that pre-ordered still haven’t received not only their headset — but any kind of hard shipping date from the company. Initially, all users had to go on were some anonymous posts at Reddit implying that Facebook lawyers wouldn’t let Oculus communicate a reason for the delays. Over the weekend however users received an e-mail informing them that because of an “unexpected component shortage” shipments have been delayed by a few weeks. To soothe the angry hordes, Oculus has decided to offer free shipping on all pre-orders.
But it’s another part of the Oculus launch that has some people up in arms: the headset’s terms of service.
Prompted almost solely by one complaint over at Reddit, numerous outlets have penned missives blasting the “super shady things” going on in the Oculus TOS. Among them are paragraphs like this one, that gives Oculus (and by proxy Facebook) the right to distribute user-contributed content the way they see fit:
“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 sublicensable (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.”
The problem with getting hysterical over the TOS is that this language is essentially boilerplate, and attached to the terms of service for pretty much every service in existence so they can make a sharing technology work without being sued over copyright. While certainly worded poorly there’s no real nefarious intent; it’s CYA lawyer language. We’ve had to note this every single time one of these mass TOS freak outs occur, whether it has been Snapchat or Pinterest. And the laundry list of websites with exactly this kind of language is endless, including YouTube, Imgur, Instagram, Tumblr, etc.
But there’s also been a number of users concerned about the fact that the Oculus headset communicates the user’s usage behavior back to Facebook using “always on” processes like “OVRServer_x64.exe.” Under the din of hive-mind Reddit outrage, the original poster used Wireshark for at least a preliminary, rough look at what’s being transferred. So far it appears to be the sort of things you’d expect any gaming device to transmit (update checking, social and buddy list sharing systems, a system that detects when the headset is mounted to your face so the Oculus store can be launched on your PC).
While Facebook and Oculus certainly could be up to no good, nobody’s actually been able to identify the software doing anything untoward, which is kind of important if you’re going to hold a mass freak out about your privacy being trampled.
Facebook’s certainly no saint on the privacy front, but it seems unlikely that Facebook or Oculus would want to sabotage the first major foray into VR by saddling the tech with too much snoopvertising (which its target audience would be savvy enough to ferret out). That’s not to say that can’t happen later, nor is it to say that the boilerplate language being using in the TOS couldn’t use more plain English. But the alien nature of VR combined with a lust for VR headlines and Facebook’s history as a data hoover has created a bit of a monster that appears to be more smoke than fire (for now).
If Oculus has a problem, it’s that they’ve been doing a piss poor job communicating any of this to customers. In the same way the company remained mute about its shipping problems, neither Oculus nor Facebook has managed to get ahead of this story with a simple update on how the data collection is fairly routine — or what OVRServer_x64.exe is watching (they’re likely too busy freaking out about the shipping issues). The most Oculus has managed to say on the subject is this short and plucky post at Reddit by Oculus founder Palmer Luckey, which fails to offer anything of substance outside of calling the original Reddit thread “a yarn.”
All of this may become a problem for Oculus given the HTC Vive’s upcoming launch. Between the Vive having “room scale” at launch (the ability to stand and move around in VR space using hand controllers), this privacy scuff up (genuine or not) and the Oculus shipping delay (meaning Vives could arrive in user homes first), the company has dug itself a bit of a PR hole. Oculus had already soured some gamers by partnering with arguably the 21st Century’s biggest data collection apparatus in the first place. If Oculus really wants to be the VR headset to buy this year, its PR and public communications team is going to have to start doing a little more than the occasional grunt on Reddit.