– by Gry Hasselbalch

In 2015 one of the most promising virtual reality products Oculus Rift reached the headlines of the world tech press. Oculus Rift has been described as expensive, but worth every penny. For the few that were able to test the device before its release, they primarily described is as an amazing experience, – a top score seeing that “experience” and the perfection of this  is the core criteria for judging any virtual reality product. And the market predictions for this new virtual extension of reality were skyrocketing  going from 600K units in 2016 to 2 million in 2017. It was sold out immediately in pre order. However, after its recent release it is now being more carefully scrutinized by users and the reviews have been less exstatic primarily due to concerns regarding the privacy of its users.

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Oculus Rift is sending data back to Facebook 

Oculus Rift  is not just any technology company, it is Facebook’s main virtual reality investment, acquired  in 2014 by the social media giant for 2 billion $. To not much surprise it has now come out that Oculus Rift sends back data to Facebook even when it seems to be not on.  One user for example noticed an always on background service that sends information from the headset back to Facebook’s servers. And the privacy policy of the product does not quiet the concerns regarding the privacy of its users. DigitalTrends.com have read through the privacy policy of Oculus Rift. One section states that “depending on how you access and use” its services, Facebook may collect information about the games, content, apps, and other experiences a user interacts with; a user’s IP address and “certain device identifiers that may be unique to your device”; a device’s precise location based on GPS signal, Wi-Fi networks and cellular towers; and information about a user’s “physical movements and dimensions” when using the headset.

Several tech reports are now questioning if it is even possible to ensure one’s privacy on the device or if it would not be safer to invest in other similar products. As one editor of the online Magazine Geek writes: “Oculus joining Facebook may have secured them the funding they need for the future, but it’s the end users who end up paying. Not only for the kit, but with their privacy. PlayStation VR is looking increasingly like the better virtual reality option to this gamer.”

A virtual reality of data

Virtual reality devices and platforms that enhance our experience is the stuff of any tech developer or sci fi author’s dreams. The idea of logging into a virtual space that enhances our physicial experience and let you virtually travel through time and space and relate to other people and experiences. In 1984 the sci fi author William Gibson described a virtual reality data space, a “cyberspace”, called the Matrix that one could hook on to or even be expelled from.  The development of the World Wide Web as we know it today, has been based on the idea of a connected cyberspace. The development of the Internet of Things, a physical reality  increasingly connected and exchanging data, the same. The only thing missing is the actual experience. With new virtual reality devices we are expanding our data spaces even further. Experience is, so to speak, translated even further into data that extends us, that we act with, that acts on our behalf and that can be acted upon. The only difference from Gibson’s virtual reality is that the problem we are facing now is not that we might risk being expelled from the virtual data spaces or that we will not be able to hook up to them.

The problem will be to log out.

“Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…” ― William GibsonNeuromancer

 

 

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