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Facebook’s virtual reality push is about data, not gaming

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VR systems

Facebook has announced the latest version of its successful standalone virtual reality (VR) headset, the Oculus Quest 2. The new device packs more computing power and a sharper screen than its predecessor, and is also US$100 cheaper.

The Oculus Quest 2 is the latest step in Facebook’s long-term strategy of making VR more accessible and popular. Facebook recently brought all its VR work under the umbrella of Facebook Reality Labs, it has announced new applications like the Infinite Office VR workplace, and will also require a Facebook login for future Oculus devices.

The compulsory link to Facebook has many consumers concerned, considering the social media giant’s chequered history with privacy and data. VR and its cousin, augmented reality (AR), are perhaps the most data-extractive digital sensors we’re likely to invite into our homes in the next decade.

Why does Facebook make virtual reality headsets?

Facebook acquired VR company Oculus in 2014 for an estimated US$2.3 billion. But where Oculus originally aimed at gamers, Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg wants VR for social media.

At the same event last year, Zuckerberg said Facebook sees VR as a pathway to a new kind of “social computing platform” using the enhanced feeling of “presence” that VR affords. For Facebook, the introduction of VR-based computing will be like the leap from text-based command line interfaces to the graphical user interfaces we use today.

This may well be right. VR affords a strong feeling of embodied presence that offers new possibilities for entertainment, training, learning and connecting with others at a distance.

But if the VR future is the one Facebook is “working in the lab” on, it will function via the company’s existing social computing platform and business model of extracting data to deliver targeted advertisements.

Virtual reality collects real data

A VR headset collects data about the user, but also about the outside world. This is one of the key ethical issues of emerging “mixed reality” technologies.

As American VR researcher Jeremy Bailenson has written:

…commercial VR systems typically track body movements 90 times per second to display the scene appropriately, and high-end systems record 18 types of movements across the head and hands. Consequently, spending 20 minutes in a VR simulation leaves just under 2 million unique recordings of body language.

The way you move your body can be used to identify you, like a fingerprint, so everything you do in VR could be traced back to your individual identity.

Facebook’s Oculus Quest headsets also use outward-facing cameras to track and map their surroundings.

In late 2019 Facebook said they “don’t collect and store images or 3D maps of your environment on our servers today”. Note the word today, which tech journalist Ben Lang notes makes clear the company is not ruling out anything in the future.

Virtual reality leads to augmented reality

Facebook wants to collect this data to facilitate its plans for augmented reality (AR).

Where VR takes a user to a fully virtual environment, AR combines virtual elements with our real surroundings.

Last year Facebook unveiled the Live Maps application, a vision of an expansive surveillance apparatus presumably powered by AR glasses and data collected from Oculus Insight. Live Maps will provide many minor conveniences for Facebook users, like letting you know you’ve left your keys on the coffee table.

Now Facebook have announced their first steps towards making this a reality: Project Aria. This will involve people wearing glasses-like sensors around Seattle and the San Francisco Bay area, to collect the data to build what Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly calls “the mirrorworld”, the next big tech platform.

People are rightly concerned about the ethical implications of this kind of data extraction. Alongside Project Aria, Facebook launched its Responsible Innovation Principles page, and they’re already quick to emphasise that faces and license plates will be blurred in this data collection.

As we have argued elsewhere, framing questions about VR and AR surveillance in terms of individual privacy suits companies like Facebook very well. That’s because their previous failings are actually in the (un)ethical use of data (as in the case of Cambridge Analytica) and their asymmetric platform power.

We need more than just ‘tech ethics’

Groups like the XR Safety Initiative recognise these emerging issues, and are beginning work on standards, guidelines and privacy frameworks to shape VR and AR development.

Many emerging technologies encounter what is known as the Collingridge problem: it is hard to predict the various impacts of a technology until it is extensively developed and widely used, but by then it is almost impossible to control or change.

We see this playing out right now, in efforts to regulate Google and Facebook’s power over news media.

As David Watts argues, big tech designs its own rules of ethics to avoid scrutiny and accountability:

Feelgood, high-level data ethics principles are not fit for the purpose of regulating big tech … The harms linked to big tech can only be addressed by proper regulation.

What might regulation of Facebook’s VR look like? Germany offers one such response – their antitrust regulations have resulted in Facebook withdrawing the headset from sale. We can only hope the technology doesn’t become too entrenched to be changed, or challenged.

But regulation has not always stopped Facebook in the past, who paid out US$550 million to settle a lawsuit for breaching biometric privacy laws. In the multi-billion dollar world of big-tech, it’s all a cost of doing business.

Another question we might ask ourselves is whether Facebook’s virtual-reality future and others like it really need to exist. Maybe there are other ways to avoid forgetting your keys.

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Tech

Don’t Be Bored Around the Home

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Don’t Be Bored Around the Home

Do you tend to get a little bored at times around home?

In the event, you stated yes, there are things you can do to diminish such feelings.

Sure, you may get tired of doing the same things at home, but more times than not they are better than boredom setting in.

With that in mind, what do you do to keep boredom at arm’s length when in your home?

You Should Have Plenty of Possibilities

In looking for things to do at home, you in all likelihood have more options than you realize.

For instance, do not look at turning on the TV as something to waste away time.

For many people, they rely on their televisions for good entertainment on a weekly basis.

If you have not tried a streaming service up to now, is it time to move forward with one?

In the event you said yes, you could review Netflix to see what is on next month if looking for future programming.

No matter the service you get, know that plenty of TV programming at home should keep you from being bored. This should help you as a result with your entertainment options.

Another option for entertainment at home would be starting a renovation project.

Now, before you say that it will be all work and no play, think of the excitement that can in fact take place.

You would be taking the time to put your creative mind to work.

Whether a change in the bedroom, kitchen or other area, possibilities are endless.

If you do in fact do decide on a home renovation project, start slow. You do not want to be overwhelmed with tearing up your home all at once.

How About Hosting a Party?

Still another option not to be bored at home would be for you to host parties for outside family and friends.

With that in mind, you could decide to host a dinner party in the near future.

With a dinner party, you can decide to have a few intimate family and friends over or make it a big occasion.

No matter the number of people you invite, determine if it will be a potluck or you will do the bulk of cooking. In doing the former, it takes pressure off of you to come up with all the food and planning.

As for entertainment, you can choose games; tell stories, watch movies or TV shows and more. The main goal is to have an event where everyone leaves with a lot of laughs and happiness.

Another advantage to such parties is that you get to be caught up with those closest to you and some you do not see as much. This allows you to know what is going on in other’s lives.

So, if you are looking to avoid being bored at home, are you doing a good job of coming up with plans to keep you busy?

The more planning and initiative you put into it, the better it should be.

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Is the Law After You?

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Law After You

Ever get the feeling when out and about that law enforcement might be looking for you?

Such a feeling can create a fair amount of angst for most people. In fact, it can make life downright nerve-wracking.

With that being the case, you should take the time to find out if in fact there are eyes trained on you.

Use the Internet to Get You Started

In trying to determine if law enforcement might be searching for you, the Internet is a good start.

For example, do you have one or more unpaid traffic tickets? What about a circumstance where you committed a crime and never showed up for your hearing. Those and other instances could mean authorities are searching for you.

If this is the case, doing a warrant search is in your best interests.

That said there are companies online that can help you with getting such information. By giving them your personal info online, you are closer to finding out if you are in danger of an arrest.

Now, stop for a moment and think about how an arrest could complicate your life.

Among the potential problems if you have a criminal record and a possible arrest in the offing:

  1. Work – How embarrassing would it be if you end up with an arrest warrant at your place of business? Not only could co-workers take a different look at you moving forward, but you could even lose your job. Given your need for a job to pay your bills, an arrest at work could make life rather difficult. Moving forward, it could be a challenge to find new work if you in fact end up with a criminal record.
  2. Family – If you are in the process of a divorce, an arrest can make life a challenge. In the event you have children, a court could view your arrest as problematic. This means there is potential for you to not get joint or even full custody of your children moving ahead.
  3. House – If you are trying to rent an apartment or a room, having a criminal record can also make this a challenge. Even if your record is unpaid traffic tickets or not having paid child support, a landlord may not rent to you.
  4. Driving – Last, if you think there is a warrant out for your arrest, it can make you a little nervous when out in public. As such, will that impact your driving abilities? If you are looking over your shoulder when driving, it can lead to the potential for a serious accident. If this happens, your life gets worse.

While you may never have intended to let a traffic ticket or other issue with the law go unattended, you’re now there.

By taking the time to go online and do a warrant search, you will at least know what you could be up against.

So, is it time to research what is going on in your life?

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