Questions or Suggestions? Contact us by email

Meta will start collecting “anonymized” data about Quest headset usage

Meta is watching for your
Enlarge / Meta is watching for your “anonymized” VR data.
Aurich Lawson | Getty Images

Meta will soon begin “collecting anonymized data” from users of its Quest headsets, a move that could see the company aggregating information about hand, body, and eye tracking; camera information; “information about your physical environment”; and information about “the virtual reality events you attend.”

In an email sent to Quest users Monday, Meta notes that it currently collects “the data required for your Meta Quest to work properly.” Starting with the next software update, though, the company will begin collecting and aggregating “anonymized data about… device usage” from Quest users. That anonymized data will be used “for things like building better experiences and improving Meta Quest products for everyone,” the company writes.

A linked help page on data sharing clarifies that Meta can collect anonymized versions of any of the usage data included in the “Supplemental Meta Platforms Technologies Privacy Policy,” which was last updated in October. That document lists a host of personal information that Meta can collect from your headset, including:

  • “Your audio data, when your microphone preferences are enabled, to animate your avatar’s lip and face movement”
  • “Certain data” about hand, body, and eye tracking, “such as tracking quality and the amount of time it takes to detect your hands and body”
  • Fitness-related information such as the “number of calories you burned, how long you’ve been physically active, [and] your fitness goals and achievements”
  • “Information about your physical environment and its dimensions” such as “the size of walls, surfaces, and objects in your room and the distances between them and your headset”
  • “Voice interactions” used when making audio commands or dictations, including audio recordings and transcripts that might include “any background sound that happens when you use those services” (these recordings and transcriptions are deleted “immediately” in most cases, Meta writes)
  • Information about “your activity in virtual reality,” including “the virtual reality events you attend”

The anonymized collection data is used in part to “analyz[e] device performance and reliability” to “improve the hardware and software that powers your experiences with Meta VR Products.”

What does Meta know about what you're doing in VR?
Enlarge / What does Meta know about what you’re doing in VR?
Meta

Meta’s help page also lists a small subset of “additional data” that headset users can opt out of sharing with Meta. But there’s no indication that Quest users can opt out of the new anonymized data collection policies entirely.

These policies only seem to apply to users who make use of a Meta account to access their Quest headsets, and those users are also subject to Meta’s wider data-collection policies. Those who use a legacy Oculus account are subject to a separate privacy policy that describes a similar but more limited set of data-collection practices.

Not a new concern

Meta is clear that the data it collects “is anonymized so it does not identify you.” But here at Ars, we’ve long covered situations where data that was supposed to be “anonymous” was linked back to personally identifiable information about the people who generated it. The FTC is currently pursuing a case against Kochava, a data broker that links de-anonymized geolocation data to a “staggering amount of sensitive and identifying information,” according to the regulator.

Concerns about VR headset data collection dates back to when Meta’s virtual reality division was still named Oculus. Shortly after the launch of the Oculus Rift in 2016, Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) sent an open letter to the company seeking information on “the extent to which Oculus may be collecting Americans’ personal information, including sensitive location data, and sharing that information with third parties.”

In 2020, the company then called Facebook faced controversy for requiring Oculus users to migrate to a Facebook account to continue using their headsets. That led to a temporary pause of Oculus headset sales in Germany before Meta finally offered the option to decouple its VR accounts from its social media accounts in 2022.