When Facebook bought Oculus for $2 billion in 2014, it put many a critic’s teeth on edge. Following the acquisition, Oculus users raised concerns that they would be required to have a Facebook account in order to use their VR devices.
At the time, Oculus reassured them that would not happen.
The company’s founder, Palmer Luckey, even took to Reddit to personally “guarantee that you won’t need to log into your Facebook account every time you wanna use the Oculus Rift.”
Yesterday, though, they apparently changed their minds about that. Oculus made the announcement via tweet on Tuesday afternoon:
Today, we’re announcing some important updates to how people log into Oculus devices, while still keeping their VR profile. Starting in October 2020, everyone using an Oculus device for the first time will need to log in with a Facebook account. // https://t.co/SMeDOXgehN
— Oculus (@oculus) August 18, 2020
Starting in October, new owners of Oculus VR hardware will have to open or link a Facebook account to their devices in order to use them. Existing Oculus accounts will be temporarily grandfathered in, with the option to link to Facebook, until 2023. After that, Oculus accounts will no longer be supported, and the full functionality of consoles without associated Facebook accounts will not be guaranteed. The changes seemingly apply to software developers for Oculus devices, too.
The Twitterverse was predictably incensed that Oculus would go back on the promise they made to their customers.
Can I get a refund on all my Oculus purchases since when I bought them you said I wouldn’t have to do this?
Serious question I will keep asking until answered.
I don’t want to have to link my FB profile to my VR profile.
— Jon Oakes (@JonVirtual) August 18, 2020
In light of the announcement, Polygon’s Ben Kuchera revised his previously published review of the Oculus Quest to reflect why, despite the quality of the console, gamers may now want to steer clear of it entirely.
He writes, “Someone finally made the VR headset I’ve always dreamed about, but there’s no way to discuss it, much less recommend it, without also bringing up Facebook’s long, sordid history of misusing the personal data of its customers (not to mention its current role in spreading political misinformation for profit).”
This may be an attempt to bolster the dwindling popularity of Facebook among Millennials and Gen Z, who are the target demographics for the consumer VR technology that Oculus offers. As Twitter user @chetfaliszek explains, Facebook is probably interested in gathering motion capture information from Oculus as well.
Remember that @oculus is the only major HMD maker who tracks and stores your physical movement and other data on their servers.
Privacy is you owning your data, not Facebook using your data to their end because their ends is…. https://t.co/xegsDl02BV
— Chet Faliszek (@chetfaliszek) August 18, 2020
On their blog, Oculus justifies the decision like this: “Using a VR profile that is backed by a Facebook account and authentic identity helps us protect our community and makes it possible to offer additional integrity tools. For example, instead of having a separate Oculus Code of Conduct, we will adopt Facebook’s Community Standards as well as a new additional VR-focused policy.”
The post also claims that this will help streamline the experience that Facebook offers to its users across all of its services. But for the most part, VR enthusiasts see this move for what it is: BS.
Google is giving back some privacy control? (You read that right)
(TECH NEWS) In a bizarre twist, Google is giving you the option to opt out of data collection – for real this time.
It’s strange to hear “Google” and “privacy” in the same sentence without “concerns” following along, yet here we are. In a twist that’s definitely not related to various controversies involving the tech company, Google is giving back some control over data sharing—even if it isn’t much.
Starting soon, you will be able to opt out of Google’s data-reliant “smart” features (Smart Compose and Smart Reply) across the G-Suite of pertinent products: Gmail, Chat, and Meet. Opting out would, in this case, prevent Google from using your data to formulate responses based on your previous activity; it would also turn off the “smart” features.
One might observe that users have had the option to turn off “smart” features before, but doing so didn’t disable Google’s data collection—just the features themselves. For Google to include the option to opt out of data collection completely is relatively unprecedented—and perhaps exactly what people have been clamoring for on the heels of recent lawsuits against the tech giant.
In addition to being able to close off “smart” features, Google will also allow you to opt out of data collection for things like the Google Assistant, Google Maps, and other Google-related services that lean into your Gmail Inbox, Meet, and Chat activity. Since Google knowing what your favorite restaurant is or when to recommend tickets to you can be unnerving, this is a welcome change of pace.
Keep in mind that opting out of data collection for “smart” features will automatically disable other “smart” options from Google, including those Assistant reminders and customized Maps. At the time of this writing, Google has made it clear that you can’t opt out of one and keep the other—while you can go back and toggle on data collection again, you won’t be able to use these features without Google analyzing your Meet, Chat, and Gmail contents and behavior.
It will be interesting to see what the short-term ramifications of this decision are. If Google stops collecting data for a small period of time at your request and then you turn back on the “smart” features that use said data, will the predictive text and suggestions suffer? Only time will tell. For now, keep an eye out for this updated privacy option—it should be rolling out in the next few weeks.
Google added Driving Mode, and they need your help to fill in the blanks
(TECH NEWS) Google wants you to help build out their driving mode, and all you have to do is annoy every last person around you.
Google is trying to map the planet and everything on it. An ever-hungry juggernaut dragon, there is some noble utility to having every mappable atom cataloged by their Sauron gaze. They’ve got goofy cars with oversized eyeball cameras gleefully running along every last street in existence, and their dance of taking photos is going to last until the end of time. It’s not even like they are shy about announcing it – HEY THIS IS A GOOGLE CAR AND WE’RE TAAAAAAKING PICTUUUUUURES.
These efforts are a bit hampered at the moment between various travel bans, which – while understandable – means that the beast can’t be sated. But Google is resourceful and full of smart people, and they know that most people are probably pretty bored and need excuses to move around. Bonus – it’s pretty safe to do so in your car (at least in terms of COVID-19 exposure), and everyone needs a change of scenery here and there.
First spotted by users at Reddit last week, Google has opened up a new “Driving Mode” option for their mobile navigation app. It lets users upload photos to their Street View service, which in turn can then be shared out to the internet at large. As a bonus, it blurs out faces and license plates to protect privacy. I guess the paranoid part of me wonders if the app secretly saves data in an unblurred state, but that means there would have to be a nefarious reason to amass that kind of data.
For the time being, let’s ignore that potentially troubling thought and focus on the positive that Google is providing here – a way to more quickly clear out all the dead gray space their maps might still be riddled with. I’m that friend who doesn’t trust that the address painted on your curb, so I’m totally down for knowing what you meant by “the one with the red door and the big blue thing.”
It’s crowdsourcing at its most genuine and distilled – an army of free freelancers working to collect data on a gargantuan project that might bankrupt even the largest tech giants of the world. If we focused the entirety of Instagram to a specific task, and a willing audience rose up and immediately contributed, we could get enough data to solve practically anything. Google is more or less taking Uber’s model and applying it to data aggregation and collection, and I can’t really fault them for that.
You may be wondering how useful this is, or even if it carries any utility at all. I think the answer there hinges on 2 things to consider. The first is simple – Google hasn’t fully mapped everything out. This includes rural areas in developed countries, to vast expanses in several others. If the thought is that we can better visualize the world in an effort to benefit humanity at large, then this endeavor is highly worthwhile.
The second thing to think about is just how usable the uploaded photos are, and this will rely on the devices themselves. Google could mitigate this by controlling software and hardware version minimums, with requirements that a camera must be able to provide images at a high bit quality. This would cut down on bad data or unusable pictures. Surely there’s a review process for final approval on top of that. In the end, this should ensure pictures that clearly convey visual data properly. (Of course, sometimes you’ll still get weird or funny stuff.)
If there’s one downside to any of this, it is that nagging feeling of another minor intrusion on privacy. When Google drives their cars around, it’s hard to miss their mechanical extremities and brightly colored paint jobs. When some rando down the road loads up a camera in their ‘96 Sonata and starts snapping pics, I could see that making some people upset. At the worst, you could say Google is encouraging unscrupulous behavior (or at least very annoying behavior), but I see enough Facebook updates from people telling me what coffee they drank for the day, so maybe no one is too worried. I guess you could worry about someone keeping any compromising photos, but Google can’t be held responsible for that.
For now, the rollout appears to be controlled at this time, as it’s not widely available to everyone, and there’s no clear indication on when and how it will be publicly released everywhere. Hit the road everyone.
Microsoft engineer *almost* gets away with $10 million
(TECH NEWS) It was almost the perfect scheme, but this Microsoft engineer messed up and is heading for prison instead.
Volodymyr Kvashuk, a former Microsoft engineer from Ukraine, is facing 9 years in prison for attempting to steal $10 million from his employer. He has been ordered to pay over $8 million in restitution fees, and may even face deportation after his prison term is complete.
Here’s how it all went down:
Kvashuk’s position as a program tester for the Microsoft Online store gave him access to a “whitelisted” store account, which automatically bypassed fraud detection protocols, to test store functionality. Purchases through whitelisted accounts were supposed to be void, but Kvashuk discovered that he was able to use the account to purchase legitimate store gift cards.
At first, he only used the credit to make small unauthorized purchases, like software and graphics cards. But nobody seemed to notice, because the purchases were linked to fake payment devices, and so Kvashuk got bolder.
He went on to make larger and larger transactions, selling his stolen Microsoft store credit for bitcoin online and spending the money on a new house and car.
As the stakes escalated, he eventually started taking more measures to conceal his tracks- like sending his largest sums through a “mixing” service to conceal their origins before he deposited them into his proper bank account. The funds were even properly reported to the IRS, but he claimed they were a gift from his dad.
Yet Kvashuk made a few damning mistakes that allowed investigators to track him down.
Most egregiously, despite being wise enough to use a VPN for this activity, he regularly reused the same connection (and therefore the same IP address). This acted like a trail of breadcrumbs that linked his known accounts and the ones directly involved with his scheme.
Investigators also highlighted the uncanny timing of the transactions in question, stating “The value of the bitcoin deposits to Kvashuk’s Coinbase account generally correlated with the value of the purchased and redeemed [Microsoft credit].”
“Stealing from your employer is bad enough,” US Attorney Brian Moran stated, “but stealing and making it appear that your colleagues are to blame widens the damage beyond dollars and cents.”
In the end, Krashuk got justice. He was found guilty of “five counts of wire fraud, six counts of money laundering, two counts of aggravated identity theft, two counts of filing false tax returns, and one count each of mail fraud, access device fraud, and access to a protected computer in furtherance of fraud,” according to court documents.
That’s quite the laundry list of offenses, but it can all be boiled down to a few simple words: “You really messed up, man.”
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