Owners of pricey Oculus hardware could soon have their data harvested by the company’s owner, Facebook, for use in “more relevant content, including ads,” UploadVR reported on Wednesday.
The move comes as Oculus is adding a bevy of Facebook-powered social features and identity verification tools to its devices, including chatting with and messaging friends while using an Oculus VR headset, automatic joining with friends in multi-user apps and games, events, parties, and media sharing. Users can opt out of linking their Oculus account to a Facebook one, but that will mean forgoing many of the new features. “Existing social features like joining parties, adding friends, and visiting other people’s Homes” that previously operated via Oculus accounts will also now prompt users to log in with Facebook, according to UploadVR.
Facebook insists that the intent of the program is to “help people build their VR communities, while keeping them safer at scale,” according to UploadVR. It also previously provided a look at Horizon, a sort of VR Disneyland, in September—which also requires a Facebook account in addition to an Oculus account, ostensibly for the same reason. VR publication RoadToVR noted that tighter integration between Oculus and Facebook accounts tied to real names could give potential trolls some pause.
Oculus products are not cheap, clocking in at hundreds of dollars. So it’s no surprise that news some features would now require opting into Facebook tracking seemed generally poorly received on Oculus and gaming subreddits.
“You can choose whether you want to add your Facebook friends as your Oculus friends automatically (depending on their settings), and you control who can see your Facebook real name on Oculus,” Facebook told UploadVR in a statement. “You will always be able to choose what information you post to your Facebook profile or timeline, either by giving permission to post or by updating your privacy settings.”
Facebook added that the data collected would include “relevant content” on “Oculus activity” such as “which apps you use,” UploadVR reported, which would be used for purposes like recommending Oculus events or VR apps. The company maintained that 3D maps of the interiors of homes, which are created by the Oculus Insight system on the Quest and Rift S headsets to create boundaries in virtual environments, are stored locally and will not be used to identify objects in a person’s home for ad purposes. (UploadVR previously wrote that Facebook characterised rumours that the headset transmitted photos of the interiors of employees’ homes to company servers as solely the result of “internal testing purposes” that the staffers opted into.)
Facebook has suffered a number of major privacy failures in the past few years, and isn’t new to worries that its hardware could be used to spy on the interiors of peoples’ homes. Its line of Portal video-chatting devices, which also collect data on users, has struggled—possibly in part due to what our reviewer described as “a pervasive sense of unease” while it’s on. It’s still moving forward with new products in the Portal line with a renewed marketing focus on privacy.