Sen. Franken wants to know what Oculus is doing with its Rift user data

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) has some questions for Oculus.

The U.S. senator sent a letter this morning to Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe to inquire about how his virtual reality company is utilizing and sharing customers’ personal data.

While Sen. Franken called VR technology “an exciting development,” he also expressed concern with how the company is collecting users’ personal data through the headset and its associated services. This letter, he said, is intended to help people “understand the extent to which Oculus may be collecting Americans’ personal information, including sensitive location data, and sharing that information with third parties.”

Numerous complaints from users and media outlets have arisen over the past week regarding specific language within the Terms of Service (ToS) for the Rift. From seemingly creepy stipulations that the company reserves the rights to collect user movement data, to the always-on gathering of user data, there have been a great deal of pertinent questions that the company has stayed relatively quiet on.

Oculus did clarify to Gizmodo earlier this week that language in the ToS was being misconstrued in regards to ownership rights of user-created content, but didn’t respond to other concerns.

“Users and content developers own all the content and IP they create using Oculus services. We are not taking ownership. Our terms of service give Oculus a license to user created content so we can enable a full suite of current and future products and services on our platform, like sharing a piece of VR content with a friend.”

Franken’s individual questions largely focus on some of the more vague sets of language in the ToS regarding user data being gathered and shared. He asks Iribe about how user location data, physical movement data and communication data are utilized and how long the information is retained. Furthermore, Franken presses the company to disclose what precautions are being taken to protect these selections of user data.

One word that is notably absent from the letter is “Facebook.” Though Oculus, like Instagram, operates as a unique company under Facebook, there have been more than a fair share of privacy concerns regarding how information is shared between the VR company and the social media giant. Franken does not directly call out Facebook in this letter to Iribe, but he does frequently refer to Oculus’ “related companies.”

Virtual reality as a technological platform raises more ethical questions than the average piece of hardware, thus, some of these early consumer products are understandably drawing major scrutiny. Sen. Franken seems to want Oculus to set a precedent of transparency while virtual reality is still in its early stages.

I believe Americans have a fundamental right to privacy, and that right includes an individual s access to information about what data are being collected about them, how the data are being treated, and with whom the data are being shared. As virtual reality technology evolves, I ask that you provide more information on Rift and how Oculus is addressing issues of privacy and security.

The senator ends his letter with a request that the company responds to his list of questions by May 13 of this year. Franken has had a history of pressing tech companies for transparency in regards to their usages of users’ personal data. Hopefully a response from Oculus can allay some user concerns or highlight areas in the company’s current Terms of Service that may need some adjustment.

If you’re curious, here’s the full text of Sen. Franken’s letter and questions.