Facebook Confirms Local 3D Image Processing for Oculus Quest and Rift S Cameras
Facebook recently relaunched its Quest and Rift S platforms. Both of these leverage a large number of cameras during use and this has raised some privacy concerns, particularly with regard to the data that is captured by the cameras and how this data is used.
Data privacy is currently a sensitive issue as the Internet of Things (IoT) gradually takes centerstage in our lives. Many users and regulators remain skeptical on how big tech companies are using the data that they collect from users. This can be particularly touchy when it comes to the image data that is captured by cameras during use on smartphone apps or virtual reality platforms.
Facebook’s newly released headsets, Quest and Rift S, heavily rely on smartphone cameras for tracking the movement of the wearer’s hands and head while also providing a pass-through feature that wearer can use to view their surroundings.
The cameras in the original Oculus Rift headset also had the same privacy concerns and relied on point-matching for tracking purposes. These cameras neither mapped or stores information on a user’s physical playspace space like the Quest or Rift S headsets.
To address these concerns, Oculus has now released additional privacy details for the Oculus Quest and Rift S headsets’ camera privacy:-
- The white LED in Quest and the blue LED on the Rift S headset will notify the user when the headset’s cameras are active and filming. This signal is a hardware function and can therefore not be deactivated or circumvented using software.
- In an instance where a hacker gets a root access to the host system of the Quest or Rift S headsets, then they may be able to gain access to the headset cameras, just like in a camera in a hacked PC.
- The headset cameras cannot be accessed by third-party developers or applications under any circumstances.
Facebook’s current Oculus Rift S has a total of five cameras with two at the front, two to the sides and one at the top to capture as much of the environment as possible in 3D.
The S-glasses have a camera-based tracking system which helps in tracking not only the movements of the wearer but also the two VR hand controllers. The numerous cameras in the Rift S headset have been designed to minimize the blind spots as much as possible. The only places where these blind spots still exist is close to your face and areas 60 degrees behind you.
With all the pictures being captured, privacy is a major issue.
An Oculus spokesperson has stated that Oculus is hosting a ‘My Privacy Center’ which contains additional information on the privacy settings for the devices, including the kind of information which is currently stored about them. To read both links, you will have to log into your Oculus account.
What will happen to all the images that will be captured by the Oculus Rift S lenses? In the statement issued, Oculus explained the rationale of having so many camera sensors on both Oculus Rift S and Quest: they help in capturing a 3D map of your environment which help in locating your virtual reality headset and controllers in a known space to ensure that the headsets will keep you safe in your physical environment as you navigate your virtual environment. The data that is captured by the five cameras is processed locally in the headsets at present. So you don’t have to worry about this data being sent to some remote servers that could be hacked by third parties.
The only information that Oculus keeps in its servers are the performance metrics and these do not include any recognizable information about your physical environment. Oculus says it captures these metrics to help it in improving its inside-out tracking system.
Oculus has emphasized that it neither collects nor stores any images or 3D maps of the user’s environment on its servers. The raw images that have been captured by the cameras on the headset do not get stored anywhere (not even on the local host machine or headset) but the 3D maps are only stored locally on the VR headset in the case of Quest or on the local PC for the Rift S headset and are not transmitted anywhere. The local storage enables either the Quest or Rift S headset to remember the playspaces that the user has already create in various rooms. For instance, if a user sets up the Oculus Guardian system to warn them when they are approaching the boundaries, Oculus will get the information on the range of play that they have set.
Previously, Oculus had stated that the Quest cameras could not be active if the white LED situated at the top of the headset is not illuminated. At the minimum, on the hardware level, users will be able to notice when their cameras have been surreptitiously activated.
The good thing is we now have Facebook’s confirmations of local image processing on record. But in the statement it issued, Facebook also said that this is the state of affairs “today” which could mean that things might change in the future. Facebook has stated that it will notify users beforehand should the current state of affairs on privacy (local data collection and storage) change in the future.