Tilt Brush launched on the Oculus Rift today, and I had a chance to catch up with Tilt Brush product manager Elisabeth Morant, launching. We have a broad discussion about adapting Tilt Brush for the Touch controllers, the Tilt Brush Artist in Residency Program, the Tiltbrush Unity Toolkit, and some of the features coming in the future potentially including a layering system and more non-intuitive and unexpected features similar to audio reactive brushes. I also asked about privacy in VR, but Google has yet to disclose any information about what they may or may not be capturing.
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Some of the most newsworthy parts about my interview with Morant were regarding things that weren’t talked about. When asked to comment about this being the first VR collaboration between Facebook & Google, Morant said that Google is “really looking to push virtual reality as a platform.” There’s been a tense history between Google and Facebook, and releasing Tilt Brush via Oculus Home is the first collaboration in the VR space that we’ve seen from the two tech giants.
But Google dodged answering about what they may or may not already be recording in VR, again. I previously asked a follow-up question about what data they’re capturing in my my previous interview about Google Earth VR, but I received a generic boilerplate answer. When I asked again, they basically sent back the same non-answer.
Non-answers to hard to write about and cover, and so they usually serve the purpose of not talking about it. But it also reinforces the impression that privacy in VR is the big elephant in the room that no one wants to really talk about. So I maintained the integrity of my original questions within the context of the podcast interview, and I’ve also included the full context of my follow-up exchange with Google PR below.
I just had a follow-up question about privacy with some reference material. I’d love to get some more specific answers from a privacy expert on your side, and swap that more detailed information to put at the end within my wrap-up. If there’s someone there who I could speak to directly, then that would be preferable. A written response also works, but not quite as well within the podcast medium because I end up having to speak words on your behalf.
My question: Is any physical movement data of either the head or hands from in any VR experiences being recorded and saved by Google?
In my previous interview about Google Earth VR, I followed up with some questions about privacy and you sent back a prepared statement that I included within both my written and spoken write-up. Here’s that passage:
Here is Google’s response:
- Does this mean that no virtual reality specific data is being recorded or captured from Google?
For more context, here’s an interview and essay that I did with a privacy expert since the last time I spoke with Google.
Thanks for willing to take a look at this, and I look forward to getting some more specific answers than Elisabeth was able to provide.
Here’s the response that I got from Google:
If there are any VR data that would show up on the ‘My Account’ tab, then that would imply that Google has been able to correlate VR-captured data back to your personal identifiable Google account. But there are no controls for VR data on ‘My Account,’ and so if data is being captured, then there’s no way for a user to control or look at what’s been captured.
I’ve asked Google twice now what data they’re recording, and both times they’ve avoided answering with a direct answer. Privacy in VR is a hard topic to cover, especially when the major players don’t really want to talk about it. I wrote extensively in this article about the privacy implications of VR and how VR has the potential to become on of the most powerful surveillance technologies or the last bastion of privacy depending on the types of user demands are placed upon the systems that are built. Sarah Downey argues against companies capturing too much data and storing it forever, and so it’s important for companies to have transparency about what they’re doing.
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