Oculus Users Freak Out Over VR Headset's TOS, Though Most Of It Is Boilerplate

from the watching-the-watchers-watch dept

So Facebook’s Oculus technically “launched” the Rift VR headset on March 28, and while the press generally seem to like the gear, the launch itself hasn’t been going particularly well. Most users that pre-ordered still haven’t received not only their headset — but any kind of hard shipping date from the company. Initially, all users had to go on were some anonymous posts at Reddit implying that Facebook lawyers wouldn’t let Oculus communicate a reason for the delays. Over the weekend however users received an e-mail informing them that because of an “unexpected component shortage” shipments have been delayed by a few weeks. To soothe the angry hordes, Oculus has decided to offer free shipping on all pre-orders.

But it’s another part of the Oculus launch that has some people up in arms: the headset’s terms of service.

Prompted almost solely by one complaint over at Reddit, numerous outlets have penned missives blasting the “super shady things” going on in the Oculus TOS. Among them are paragraphs like this one, that gives Oculus (and by proxy Facebook) the right to distribute user-contributed content the way they see fit:

“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.”

The problem with getting hysterical over the TOS is that this language is essentially boilerplate, and attached to the terms of service for pretty much every service in existence so they can make a sharing technology work without being sued over copyright. While certainly worded poorly there’s no real nefarious intent; it’s CYA lawyer language. We’ve had to note this every single time one of these mass TOS freak outs occur, whether it has been Snapchat or Pinterest. And the laundry list of websites with exactly this kind of language is endless, including YouTube, Imgur, Instagram, Tumblr, etc.

But there’s also been a number of users concerned about the fact that the Oculus headset communicates the user’s usage behavior back to Facebook using “always on” processes like “OVRServer_x64.exe.” Under the din of hive-mind Reddit outrage, the original poster used Wireshark for at least a preliminary, rough look at what’s being transferred. So far it appears to be the sort of things you’d expect any gaming device to transmit (update checking, social and buddy list sharing systems, a system that detects when the headset is mounted to your face so the Oculus store can be launched on your PC).

While Facebook and Oculus certainly could be up to no good, nobody’s actually been able to identify the software doing anything untoward, which is kind of important if you’re going to hold a mass freak out about your privacy being trampled.

Facebook’s certainly no saint on the privacy front, but it seems unlikely that Facebook or Oculus would want to sabotage the first major foray into VR by saddling the tech with too much snoopvertising (which its target audience would be savvy enough to ferret out). That’s not to say that can’t happen later, nor is it to say that the boilerplate language being using in the TOS couldn’t use more plain English. But the alien nature of VR combined with a lust for VR headlines and Facebook’s history as a data hoover has created a bit of a monster that appears to be more smoke than fire (for now).

If Oculus has a problem, it’s that they’ve been doing a piss poor job communicating any of this to customers. In the same way the company remained mute about its shipping problems, neither Oculus nor Facebook has managed to get ahead of this story with a simple update on how the data collection is fairly routine — or what OVRServer_x64.exe is watching (they’re likely too busy freaking out about the shipping issues). The most Oculus has managed to say on the subject is this short and plucky post at Reddit by Oculus founder Palmer Luckey, which fails to offer anything of substance outside of calling the original Reddit thread “a yarn.”

All of this may become a problem for Oculus given the HTC Vive’s upcoming launch. Between the Vive having “room scale” at launch (the ability to stand and move around in VR space using hand controllers), this privacy scuff up (genuine or not) and the Oculus shipping delay (meaning Vives could arrive in user homes first), the company has dug itself a bit of a PR hole. Oculus had already soured some gamers by partnering with arguably the 21st Century’s biggest data collection apparatus in the first place. If Oculus really wants to be the VR headset to buy this year, its PR and public communications team is going to have to start doing a little more than the occasional grunt on Reddit.

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Comments on “Oculus Users Freak Out Over VR Headset's TOS, Though Most Of It Is Boilerplate”

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JoeCool (profile) says:


If Oculus has a problem, it’s that they’ve been doing a piss poor job communicating any of this to customers.

ANY time you hear this, lawyers are clearly involved. Lawyers are trained to be incomprehensible so that you need to hire a lawyer to tell you what they’re saying, thus increasing the workload for all lawyers. 99% of what lawyers do today is make work for themselves and other lawyers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Obviously

Well, to be fair, I do know some lawyers and they have plenty of stories of work they try to avoid, but which their clients insist on. (One amusingly quipped that in a typical divorce, all the clients can agree on is the name of the married parties and the date of the wedding, and not always those…)

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Obviously

Yes, that 99% I mention is certainly exaggerated… it’s more like 98%. 😉

And yes, lawyers are perfectly willing to go along with whatever crazy idea an idiot has concerning what they believe they have coming, and bill them for services. The problem with this is that not only is the idiot paying, but they’re forcing the person/entity being filed against to pay as well. Everyone is paying given this costs the courts as well. All so that some idiot can file a frivolous suit that the lawyer should have never filed in the first place.

Anonymous Coward says:

Karl, do you get paid to defend Facebook? Because just because contract terms are boilerplate or may not be intended to be used in that way, doesn’t make them disappear. And if tomorrow Facebook is bought, because their little bubble implodes, then the only valuable stuff are the mountains of data FB has and this “boilerplate language” gives them access to more data. What do you think a potential buyer will do? Use all the data they can get or not?

Lurker Keith says:

Yeah, yeah... something laywer something billable hours

Why don’t they just do the ToS in plain English/ language of the country, to avoid these mass freak outs?

Something like

“By using this [whatever], user agrees to not sue [corporation?] for anything necessary to provide the service. This includes Copyright for user created or program generated content, [specific?] data collection, [other stuff they want covered].”

should be sufficient.

If they want to use data for advertising, make a line saying so. Make it clear, or it’s useless.

Whatever (profile) says:

Re: Yeah, yeah... something laywer something billable hours

They won’t do it in a simple way because it’s not what they intend. They want to use your VR experiences as their content, their marketing material, and their way of making a profit off of you.

They can’t say it directly like that, so they use longer ways to explain it so that you can’t easily understand it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Yeah, yeah... something laywer something billable hours

Google does a fairly good job at explaining their terms:

Some of our Services allow you to upload, submit, store, send or receive content You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours.

When you upload, submit, store, send or receive content to or through our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide licence to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes that we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights that you grant in this licence are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. This licence continues even if you stop using our Services (for example, for a business listing that you have added to Google Maps). Some Services may offer you ways to access and remove content that has been provided to that Service. Also, in some of our Services, there are terms or settings that narrow the scope of our use of the content submitted in those Services. Make sure that you have the necessary rights to grant us this licence for any content that you submit to our Services.

Travis says:

Re: Yeah, yeah... something laywer something billable hours

“Why don’t they just do the ToS in plain English/ language of the country, to avoid these mass freak outs?”

Because legal documents can’t just be “plain English”. Our language is too vague and if a legal document is too vague then too many loop holes and/or interruptions. Legal language is designed to be as exact and non-vague as possible, that just many that it can be really hard to read for those of us not trained in it.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Yeah, yeah... something laywer something billable hours

“Legal language is designed to be as exact and non-vague as possible”

This is a bit misleading. Legal language is professional jargon. All profession jargon is designed to accomplish multiple goals, usually stated as:

1) Facilitate clear and effective communication, as you said
2) To facilitate obfuscation
3) To provide an indicator of who is a part of the profession and who is not.

Anonymous Coward says:

Well, I own an Oculus Rift DK2 and started using the new 1.3 drivers. I have not yet wiresharked the computer, but I can tell you it’s noisy as hell on DNS lookups to *.facebook.com.

The problem with them sending information back and forth isn’t so much that it does it when connected and running Oculus Home, but it also does it when the display/Rift isn’t connected. You can stop the Oculus VR Runtime Service and set it to manual though to kill the annoying traffic. You’ll just loose the plug and play aspect which if you’ve ever used one will quickly realize it’s never plug and play to setup anyway. The traffic from the background processes seems extremely high considering that the device isn’t in use, so chalk it up to bad programming or what have you, but I’ll manually shut it down for now until there’s an update.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Is Whatever getting flagged just for being Whatever?

In this case, I think the “race to the bottom” mudball is what prompted the flagging. It wouldn’t be enough on its own to justify such, but in the context of Whatever’s history, any slam at the site or the authors (as distinct from critical commentary on the substance of the article) tends to get an “assume bad faith” reaction.

Whatever (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Making every use of a product into both marketing material for the company and free content seems like a pretty serious screwing over. Techdirt has plenty of complaints about DRM and secret cookies, but a product that actually takes your experiences and potentially turns them into their free content seems even more over the top.

But it’s boilerplate, so it’s okay, right?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

That’s actually pretty easy… An insurance actuary for example will file through legal print to not cover people from anything to live saving surgery to simply covering your property damage. And as many times have been covered here, arbitration agreements can cover liabilities of many companies and routinely screw over end users from loses and filing civil suits.

Rekrul says:

Has anyone ever built a wearable, VR style display that can be used with any computer via a VGA cable, and that can be used with any game even if it doesn’t support head tracking?

I’ve always wanted a VR style display that blocked out the real world and only let you see the game you’re playing. I don’t even care if it support movement tracking.

Rekrul says:

Re: Re: Re:

Thanks for the list. Too bad it doesn’t have more info on each one.

My only experience with VR was playing the Virtuality arcade game a couple of times in the 90s. When I first put the helmet on, it was like looking through a tube (I only have sight in one eye) and I thought it was going to suck. However by the end of the three-minute game, I no longer saw the tube, I just saw the game.

It was awkward and laggy, but I liked the sensation of being “in” the game and I’ve always wished that I could get a VR type display for use with a computer. I don’t care about the motion tracking because it would be limited compared to using a mouse anyway.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You can pick up an Oculus Rift 1st gen for cheap probably. It won’t work with the 1.3 drivers, I would ask on Reddit /r/oculus if someone wants to get rid of one. I would download the old drivers now, and if you want it for some gaming try to get the current VorpX which hasn’t been updated. The screen door effect was really bad, but it’s going to be cheap.

Rekrul says:

Re: Re: Re:

As I understand it, you can’t use the Oculus Rift as a stand-alone display. It requires the drivers to function. As such it puts specific system requirements on using it, plus the drivers would add to the CPU load. Also, don’t programs have to be specifically written to work with it?

I just want a generic, wearable display that will display whatever the video card sends it, without needing any drivers. I want to be able to use it to play a game of Dark Forces in DOSBox if I so choose.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I can make one for you

1 Give me your entire fortune in assets and Fiat money,and ill get started on it
1.1 No ETA’S
1.2 Come on man…….do it……..its your current dreeeeam man…….totally worth the price, ANY price


0.1 I reserve the right to change the agreement however i see fit

Ammendments (dated months later)

What TOS? Scratches head

Anonymous Coward says:

So far it appears to be the sort of things you’d expect any gaming device to transmit (update checking, social and buddy list sharing systems, a system that detects when the headset is mounted to your face so the Oculus store can be launched on your PC).

LOL this is what we’ve devolved to in regards to privacy expectation – that this is considered normal.

Any gaming device has zero need to transmit ANY of that stuff, unless relevant needs are in place.

If I am a solo-gamer – NONE of that needs to be transmitted. If a multi-player – then the “Oculus store” has no need to know the device is glued to my face.

“Update checking” isn’t a requirement unless MAYBE for online and store activities – certainly NOT for single-player (useful? perhaps. Recommended? Perhaps? Required? NO WAY).

I have no dog in this race – because I think VR is a useful tech that, on this current iteration’s roll-out – is way over-hyped. I’ll wait for the tech (and its uses) to mature and come down in price before considering it. But what I WON’T do is buy something so tethered to the hive machine (even if that means never buying in).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Hell, after reading beyond that one paragraph, we think a hell’uva’lot alike…….i literraly share the same sentiments and decisions as the ones you stated…….its freaky……..and a lil exciting 🙂

Nice when you hear a like minded person……very rare in this material hive minded world

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Question: which gaming devices do you use?

I have to assume: no modern consoles, virtually no PC games that aren’t 10+ years old, no smartphones or dedicated mobile gaming devices. Because all of those transmit very similar information.

If you’re a vintage platform gamer, or exclusively use emulators, or limit yourself to an extremely narrow selection of games, or take exceptional steps to block all communication with a central server, then you are already exposing yourself to all of this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I know this is a bit late to the party (and this article is on what – 3rd page by now?) – but I just thought of it and seems relevant enough to post even though this stories is fading into the ether..

Anyone remember this story right here on Techdirt (from Fri, Apr 5th 2013)?


Wow have things changed in regards to what privacy invasions are “normal” in just three years. Goes to show how drinking a steady trickle of the koolaid over time can change what are “acceptable practices”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Nah, people have just stopped caring. It’s widely known that if you piss off the system cops will even go as low as to plant evidence on one to detain them.

After the PRISM reveal, there’s not much else one can do except either shut down all communications or put up a mask and fake it both IRL & online 24/7.

The web used to be a place where you could at least somewhat escape, where telling a joke about the president was not an offense punished with 4 years in prison.

Anonymous Coward says:

what a POS article.

Articles like this are why I’m not an insider. They’re rare- but they do far more to damage TD’s rep then all the good articles do to support it.

What’s wrong:

A problem becoming ubiquitous does not make it cease to be a problem- acting like it does is pathetic learned helplessness.

Boilerplate is legally binding.

An amoral/unethical legal right reserved is NOT ok as long as it’s not abused.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: what a POS article.

The point is not that because it’s boilerplate it’s automatically okay (though in this case, I would make the argument that the licensing boilerplate is not only okay it’s necessary and completely appropriate, given the state of copyright law, for anyone who wishes to use any sort of online service).

The point is that every new product that comes out, people discover that paragraph and freak out as if it’s some crazy new egregious thing that the company is doing. It’s not. Hell, most of the time, whatever platform someone is using to complain about it has the exact same terms.

If people want to take issue with the need for worldwide content licenses on online services, fine. That’s a big and complex conversation – getting rid of them would almost certainly require significant changes to copyright law at the legislative level, for one thing. Want to have that conversation? Sure! Let’s do it.

But freaking out like “Oh look how evil Oculus is!” is not a productive way to start that conversation. In fact all it does is expose the complainer’s ignorance of the law and the broader situation, and prove that they are being reactionary about legal language they don’t fully understand.

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