Facebook has unveiled the new and improved Oculus Quest 2, which will be the next major headset from the company. It is more powerful and less expensive than its predecessor, with a better screen as well.
In Facebook’s long-term VR strategy, the Quest 2 is just another step towards making VR more accessible and popular. Facebook Reality Labs is taking a more unified approach to VR development, and has revealed new applications like the Infinite Office VR workplace, as well as announced that future Oculus devices will require a Facebook login.
Many consumers are concerned about the link to Facebook, given the platform’s past history with data and privacy. The two digital sensors that are perhaps most likely to be integrated into the home over the next decade are virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).
Why Does Facebook Make Virtual Reality Headsets?
In 2014, Facebook spent an estimated US$2.3 billion to acquire Oculus, the VR firm. However, Mark Zuckerberg wants to make VR technology useful to as many people as possible, including non-gamers.
At the same event in 2016, Zuckerberg explained that Facebook views virtual reality as a means to create a “social computing platform” that provides the added sense of “presence” that virtual reality offers. It will be like moving from the command-line interfaces we have today to graphical user interfaces, as the introduction of VR-based computing will for Facebook.
I believe this may be correct. Immersive virtual reality provides the feeling of embodiment that allows for a wide variety of new applications, from entertainment to training to interacting with others over a distance.
In Facebook’s vision of the future of virtual reality, the company’s current social computing platform and advertising model will both be utilized.
Virtual Reality Collects Real Data
VR hardware gathers information about the user, but also about the surrounding environment. One of the emerging “mixed reality” technologies’ key ethical issues is highlighted by this quote. When it comes to commercial VR systems, systems use sensors to track a person’s movement up to 90 times per second in order to match the virtual scene. Higher-end systems capture up to 18 movement types across the body and hands. VR simulations leave only under 2 million unique recordings of body language because people leave within a short amount of time.
Everything you do in VR, including your movements, can be traced back to your unique identity, like a fingerprint.
Like the Oculus Quest headsets, the cameras on Facebook’s Quest headsets track and map the environment as well.
“At the end of 2019, Facebook had a new statement on data collection and storage: ‘we don’t collect and store 3D maps of your environment on our servers today.’” Ben Lang notes that the company is not ruling out anything in the future, because today’s statement says so.
In Essence, Virtual Reality Spawns Augmented Reality
To facilitate its plans for augmented reality, Facebook wants to gather this data (AR).
Whereas virtual reality transports a user to a completely virtual setting, augmented reality blends virtual elements with the real world.
Facebook demonstrated an expansive surveillance apparatus that presumably ran on AR glasses and data from Oculus Insight, which it called the Live Maps application in 2016. Many minor conveniences, like knowing you left your keys on the coffee table, will be available through Live Maps.
Project Aria is Facebook’s first step towards making this possible.. The people in Seattle and the San Francisco Bay area will wear glasses-like sensors, which will gather data to build the mirrorworld, according to Kevin Kelly, a co-founder of Wired.
These data extraction practices cause people to rightfully be concerned about their ethical implications. It’s also quick for Facebook to stress that faces and license plates will be blurred in this data collection.
It is in keeping with our previous statements to frame questions about VR and AR surveillance as those related to individual privacy suits well for companies like Facebook. The primary factor is that their previous failures (as in Cambridge Analytica) were related to the unethical use of data and their asymmetric platform power.
We Need a Full Understanding of Both “Tech Ethics” and Industry Standards
These issues associated with VR and AR development are already present, and groups like the XR Safety Initiative are hard at work creating standards, guidelines, and privacy frameworks to guide development.
The so-called Collingridge problem pertains to technologies in their early stages: it is difficult to accurately predict the various consequences of a technology until it has been developed and widely adopted, but at that point it is nearly impossible to change or control.
This is what we’re seeing in attempts to control Google and Facebook’s power over the media at the moment.
In the context of virtual reality, Facebook’s regulation could be characterized as “what might it look like?” One such response offered by Germany is that Germany’s antitrust regulations have forced Facebook to take the headset off the market. This technology can only hope to be challenged or changed if it does not become too entrenched.
Although regulation had stopped Facebook from collecting personal biometric data in the past, who was required to pay $550 million to settle a lawsuit for violating biometric privacy laws? When it comes to big-tech companies, everything is business as usual.
We could also ponder this question: Do other virtual-reality futures like Facebook’s really need to exist? Remembering your keys is not the only way to avoid forgetting them.