Why you should read the Oculus Terms of Service

Last Monday, the long-awaited Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets started being delivered to their buyers. Hopefully, the latter have read the Terms of Service that come with the device and have found them acceptable, but common sense and previous research says that many of them likely haven’t even glanced at them and have simply ticked off the small box next to the claim “Yes, I’ve read them and I agree to them.”

Does that equal “informed consent”? The law says it does.

Oculus Terms of Service

But for all of you out there who are thinking about buying the device, it might be a good idea to know first what information you will allow the company (bought by Facebook in 2014) to collect, share with third parties and related companies (including Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp), and use, as well as how the company will collect that info and, finally, how your User Content can be used by them.

Collecting information

This run down was inspired by a short piece by Gizmodo’s Andrew Liptak, who pointed out several potentially problematic parts of the ToS Agreement and the Oculus Privacy Policy.

For one, the company is allowed to collect a ton of information about you, your activities, even your physical self.

One example is information about your interactions with their Services (via cookies, pixels, and similar technologies, but also by scanning the contents of your local storage!). Another is information about your device, browser, OS, IP address (and location information), device identifiers, but also about games and content (even if it’s provided by third parties). Finally, they will collect information about your physical movements and dimensions.

All this is aside from all the information you will have to provide yourself in order to use their Services to the full extent of their capabilities: personal information, email address, payment info, shipping and contact details, all the communications with other Oculus users.

Third parties may also collect information about you through the Services – either the aforementioned related companies or actual third-party partners – and all these parties, including Oculus VR, can combine all this information to create a pretty good file on you, your interests, actions, etc.

The collection of all this data is performed so that the company can provide quality services, to “promote safety and security,” but also to market stuff to you.

While you would expect such a thing from Facebook, where you don’t pay for the service, you might not expect the same thing when you actually had to shell out $600 for the device, so you should be aware of this.

As it’s become usual for these type of online services, the company will share your info with law enforcement if they receive a legal request for the info.

Oh, and yes: you should not expect any data you transmit to Oculus VR (or data the company keeps stored) to be 100% secure. Even if you deactivate or delete your account or data associated with it, “content deleted from the Services may remain in backup copies and logs for a period of time.” (Notice that they don’t specify how long that period of time is.)

What about your content?

Let’s go back to the ToS now and see what they say about User Content (“including, but not limited to, text, images, photos, videos, sounds, virtual reality environments or features, software and other information and materials” you may submit, post, send, etc.):

“Unless otherwise agreed to, we do not claim any ownership rights in or to your User Content,” they say, and that’s good news.

But, “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.”

Before you say “well, that’s standard for similar services so they can distribute content without being sued, nothing to see here,” I will remind you that not everybody is a knowledgeable as you about these standard practices.

As Liptak pointed out, virtual reality headsets are a new technology, and who knows all the ways that it will be used in the future.

“Basically, if you create something using the device, Oculus can’t own it, but the company can use it—and they don’t have to pay you for for using it. Oculus can use it even if you don’t agree with its use,” he noted. I will add that they can grant the right to use it to others, as well.

“This probably doesn’t matter much if you’re using the device as a gaming platform, but with a new type of device that’s out there, there are a whole range of unforeseen uses. Based on the wording of the Terms of Service, a creative developer could make a piece of interactive artwork that Oculus could then use for an Oculus ad without the artist’s permission.”

As always, if you do not agree to all of this, you can simply not use the service – and the company dutifully points that out at the beginning of the agreement. But if you don’t read it, you will not know that, and you will not know what you have agreed to.

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