My opinion on Oculus using hackable cameras

Some days ago all the virtual reality world was talking about a single news: Oculus positional tracking cameras are actually hackable cameras.

Epic virtual reality researcher Oliver Kreylos (we all love him) has managed to access the infra-red camera stream of Oculus cameras, doing strange stuff on Linux like re-compiling a loadable Kernel module and discovering the actual codec of the camera stream. He published a photo of him taken by this camera and everyone went mad. UploadVR published a complete article about this and I recommend you to read it. Everyone was like “OMG, Zuckerberg is spying on me!”

As always, I’m like “meh” about these news. The thing that got my attention of this news is the fact that Doc-ok managed to hack the cameras and how he did this (really talented that guy), not the “privacy stuff”. Reasons are:

Sincerely (image by Know Your Meme)
  • Don’t know what you were expecting. It’s obvious that Oculus positional tracking cameras are infrared (so grayscale) cameras. How did you expect the tracking to happen? This is how you do infrared positional tracking: there’s an infrared camera that lits up some sensors and from the position of this lit points on the camera frame, it reconstructs the position of your headset. Lighthouse system is completely different because it uses laser beams (so has not this problem), but every IR-tracking system involves an IR camera. Do you want another example? OSVR. OSVR uses infrared tracking (the same used by FOVE as it seems from FOVE unboxing I’ve seen yesterday) and even more kindly it lets you access their camera stream very easily. Here you are a photo I got from my OSVR positional-tracking-camera stream. Look that bright points that make the positional tracking to happen. Oculus works exactly the same way.

    OSVR positional camera
    Me as seen by OSVR positional camera… look at all those bright points used for the tracking!
  • Hacking is not that easy: Doc-ok had to recompile a piece of Linux and other strange stuff to get it. It’s not something that can be done by everyone. And remember that he did it on Linux while all your Oculus setups run on Windows (and we are not even sure how they’re hackable on Windows). Why I’m saying this? Because for a hacker is far more easier to use another way to spy you, like hacking your PC webcam. Why hack Oculus camera while he can access your webcam and/or microphone stream that are easily accessible via Windows API? Really don’t know. Furthermore, if the hacker can do all that strange driver stuff to access your Oculus camera stream, it does mean that he can do with your PC what he wants, so you aren’t protecting yourself anyway (and so you deserve to be spied :D).
  • No one cares about you: someone published a photo of Zuck having his PC with webcam and microphone covered with a tape. But he’s a billionaire that manages one of the most powerful companies of the world, we are not. Our camera stream is not that interesting. Yes, as someone pointed out on reddit, there are bad people that use camera streams to stalk people, so we have to care about this a bit… but I’m not that super-concerned.
  • Don’t know what the stream can be useful to: people is scared of Facebook getting our camera stream and then use it. Well, to do what exactly? Surely they can’t transmit it raw over network, because it would saturate our bandwith. So they should do some kind of image analysis on a medium-resolution grayscale camera stream… what they could get? Uhm… maybe face recognition and some kind of object recognition (brands, big objects). Doing skeletal tracking with this setup is theoretically possible, but really really hard (surely you don’t get the same performance of Kinect… and there are no library that can do this reliably now; furthermore it would consume lots of your CPU and GPU), so detecting what you’re doing is really difficult. I think that these informations are quite useless to facebook and it’s not worth getting them at the risk of a big class action for privacy infringement.
  • There are better ways to spy us: why spying us playing SuperHot doing strange hacks while you can enter the smartphone of your target and get 100x informations? We have far more infos on our smartphones (and even 4K color camera streams, GPS tracking, etc…) than on our PCs. So, it’s far more interesting to spy them. And about facebook… WE are the ones giving infos to them. Let’s remember this. Why Zuck should bother about getting our camera stream when we’re the one uploading photos of our lives on his social media and cheating with our girlfriends chatting with other girls on Messenger or Whatsapp? Really have no clue.

So, yes, it’s been an interesting news, but I’m not that scared by it. It just reminds me to keep my computer the most secure possible. I’m more scared about privacy issues that will arise from augmented reality, because in the future we’ll wear those glasses every day in every moment and so our entire life can be completely spied by major companies.

Furthermore: Zuck, if you’re so no nasty that want to spy on me while I watch VirtualRealPorn videos: my email is tonyvt AT immotionar DOT com… write me and I’ll provide you a full HD color video of it, so you don’t bother getting a so low quality grayscale stream from my positional cameras… 😀 😀 😀 .

So, what’s your opinon about this? Are you scared by this news? Do you think that I’m a complete idiot? Let me know your opinion in the comments!

(Header image by UploadVR)

Join my super-exclusive club!

Receive for free AR/VR articles like this + a weekly roundup of the most important XR news of the week straight in your inbox!

4 e-mails/week circa. No spam, no ads, no GIFs of kitten (not sure about the last point, though)

Skarredghost

AR/VR developer, startupper, zombie killer. Sometimes I pretend I can blog, but actually I’ve no idea what I’m doing.

I tried to change the world with my startup Immotionar, offering super-awesome full body virtual reality, but now the dream is over. But I’ve still not waken up…