How are VR companies treating my data?
Let's focus on the big three players right now: the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and Samsung Gear VR. All of them have Privacy Policies available to users on their websites, and not surprisingly, all have pretty similar clauses. The language may change a little from one brand to the next, but they essentially say the same thing. I have to say, after reading through all that legal jargon, I totally understand why we usually skip over these documents, but it's interesting stuff once you've got it all translated and organized.
- What the Privacy Policies have in common
- What's different about the Privacy Policies
- Reality check
- The bottom line
Here's what all three Privacy Policies for these brands have in common:
All three are using Cookies and Beacons to collect and store data.
Cookies are small files that store things like login information and ads you've already been exposed to on various sites. Beacons are a means for your device to communicate with a server and they're embedded in online content. That's not unique to VR; your laptop, desktop, phone, and tablet do it, too.
All three are going to collect location-based information.
This includes things like your timezone and the country you live in; these have to do with apps and content availability, ensuring that user experiences are relevant for your part of the world with proper language availability and time-sensitive software upgrades. Those are necessities, so you can't mind them knowing where in the world you are.
All three are going to share aggregate data with third party companies.
This generally doesn't include your specific or personal data, it's more like the statistics of when people are actively playing and the numbers of regional users. That's not terrible, and most non-VR games and apps do that anyway.
Each system will take data like your IP address, the browser you're using, and your device.
Each will also ask for details like your name, an email address, and your date of birth. Depending on how much you want to honestly volunteer, you can falsify a handful of those "facts". Plenty of people do, but plenty of people provide their real information, and the choice is yours.
All three will use information they collect about you to guide their marketing strategies.
Part of the reason for this is, as always, unforeseen security breaches, but there is something else you need to be aware of. Your data may be transferred to servers throughout the US and around the world at each company's discretion, since they're all international companies. Once your data is "over there", it's subject to the laws of that land, and those laws may be far less stable or enforceable. That's a little scary, but VR isn't the only industry doing it.
All communication via the social features of your VR is stored.
Your messages are generally saved in a temporary cache if they're between users, but more permanently if they're forum posts, like in the Oculus support community. However, there will always be a record that some form of communication happened between you and a friend or another user. Again, that kind of permanent digital trail of breadcrumbs isn't unique to VR, but it's good to be reminded that it's there.
No matter which VR you're using, your data will be shared with network affiliates and business partners.
So how are the Privacy Policies different?
The basic differences are pretty simple:
Let's add to that the fact that Facebook bought Oculus Rift in 2014. This means that whatever Oculus knows, Facebook knows, and that's unnerving for lots of people. Remember the whole mess with the Facebook Messenger app a few years back? People were up in arms about privacy concerns, but what was really done about it? Over time, the worries faded for that app, but they seem to be making a comeback with VR's connection to social media.
Just don't think for a second that there will be a separate clause for porn.
One of the things that's come to the top of the concern list with the Oculus Rift policy is the potential for people to be tracked while they're viewing adult content; call it like it is, because the VR porn industry is growing, and if that's your thing, that's nobody's business but your own. Just don't think for a second that there will be a separate clause for porn. And if you haven't been paying attention to a policy like Oculus Rift's, don't act surprised when you later find out that you're being watched, and there are many sets of corporate eyes on you.
Here are a few noteworthy affiliates gleaned from each website:
- Samsung has affiliates like Cheil (a Korea-based company that markets for GM, numerous coffee brands, and bath and body products);
- HTC counts Facebook developers as an affiliate organization;
- Oculus Rift, in addition to Facebook, is affiliated with Parse (open source API software), Moves (a fitness tracking app), and Liverail (a monetization platform for publishers like A&E and CBS). It's good to know what you're connected to.
The bottom line
What do you think of the this whole privacy hullaballoo? Let us know in the comments section below!