If you aren’t an enthusiast, chances are you haven’t used a Virtual Reality (VR) or Augmented Reality (AR) headset. The hype around this technology, however, is nearly inescapable. We’re not just talking about dancing with lightsabers; there’s been a lot of talk about how VR/AR will revolutionize entertainment, education, and even activism. EFF has long been interested in the potential of this technology, and has even developed our own VR experience, Spot the Surveillance, which places users on a street corner amidst police spying technologies.
It’s easy to be swept up in the excitement of a new technology, but utopian visions must not veil the emerging ethical and legal concerns in VR/AR. The devices are new, but the tech giants behind them aren’t. Any VR/AR headset you use today is likely made by a handful of corporate giants—Sony, Microsoft, HTC, and Facebook. As such, this budding industry has inherited a lot of issues from their creators. VR and AR hardware aren’t household devices quite yet, but if they succeed, there’s a chance they will creep into all of our personal and professional lives guided by the precedents set today.
A Step Backwards: Requiring Facebook Login for Oculus
This is why Oculus’ announcement last week shocked and infuriated many users. Oculus, acquired by Facebook in 2014, announced that it will require a Facebook account for all users within the next 2 years. At the time of the acquisition Oculus offered distressed users an assurance that “[y]ou will not need a Facebook account to use or develop for the Rift [headset].”
There’s good cause to be alarmed. Eliminating alternative logins can force Oculus users to accept Facebook’s Community Standards, or risk potentially bricking their device. With this lack of choice, users can no longer freely give meaningful consent and lose the freedom to be anonymous on their own device. That is because Oculus owners will also need to adopt Facebook’s controversial real name policy. The policy requires users to register what Facebook calls their “authentic identity,” — one known by friends and family and found on acceptable documents—in order to use the social network.