Virtual Reality Levels Up Data Mining

by Adam Gill

Are you excited to own your own virtual reality device? If you are concerned about your privacy, you might want to think again. When Oculus Rift hit the shelves at the end of March this year, it was not just providing a 110″ field of view with a 90 HZ refresh rate and an OLED display. This is just what it provided for customers. But as our top VPN ExpressVPN has shared, the device is providing a window into your personal life for an unknown number of third parties to look through.

Facebook-like Terms

The mere fact that Oculus was acquired by Facebook almost two years ago should already give you an idea of what kind of data practices to expect. Facebook is one of the best at data mining, making over 5.6 billion US dollars each year from just the ads that are created based on collected user data. Excitement has been high over the anticipated gaming options that virtual reality brings, and Facebook is not going to pass up on an awesome opportunity to gather more saleable data to multiply their revenue. The data that Oculus Rift devices are set to collect is going to be sent to other companies aside from Facebook, and this means big bucks for Facebook.

Although Facebook has upped their privacy standards since they began getting a lot of flak from users and privacy advocates, the Oculus terms are not reflecting the company’s newfound concern. Third party companies that work with Oculus for content, marketing and service functionality will have access to the data that is collected from the devices. Marketing developed using the data can even be used for marketing outside the Oculus Rift platform. This is similar to how Facebook links up with other websites that have their buttons to gather more data and serve targeted ads. Oculus will be using cookies and opening up users’ device IDs, local storage, and more to these third parties. Profiling is definitely part of the deal since other services will be able to use the collated data from Rift devices and linked websites and services for their own purposes.

New Data Opportunities

Being a new technology, it is not certain what the Rift can really know about its users. There are a few things, however, that we know so far that the device can learn, and these are scary enough. Several physical statistics can be measured by the device, like sex, weight, and height. The device can also monitor body and eye movements and measure how long a user looks at something. If that user is also a Facebook user, the personal store of data available to the company and all its third-party friends is incredible.

The Oculus Rift, just like the Xbox Kinect, is programmed to have certain features stay on all the time. One of these is its Internet connection. This means that all the online activities of everyone on that connection can be monitored 24/7. When the public learned what Microsoft was doing with their console, a lot of users were miffed and decided to switch camps to avoid being spied on. This might happen with the Rift when another comparable virtual reality device surfaces, but can the fans wait that long? It could be years before another company comes out with a device that can give users the same virtual reality experience as the Rift. In the meantime, the only question is whether people care more about the awesome experience, or their data.

We are just talking about the Oculus Rift here, but more virtual reality devices and technologies are going to come out for sure. And since Oculus is already preparing for massive data gathering activities and adding new parameters for what it can learn and share, other companies are going to want in.

Not Just Ads

What privacy experts are worried about more than just an expanded data mining platform for ads is what all this data will mean for governments. The stores of data that these devices will be able to gather over time will be a great source for governments to use in their surveillance activities. We all know that all governments conduct surveillance activities of some type to some extent. Surveillance is their preferred way of keeping an eye on things, and even the most democratic of states have not always demonstrated real concern over people’s privacy.

What governments are focused on is getting as much data as they can with as little effort and expense as possible. We saw this three years ago in the US when it was revealed how the government pressured the biggest Internet companies to share user information with them. These companies are not that interested in playing ball now that their customers know about their secret deals. But with the emergence of virtual reality, governments have another avenue to pursue. And they are hungry for data especially now that their last route to mass data, Internet Service Providers, might soon be closed off by regulators.

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