Oculus Touch controllers warn of 'Big Brother'

April 15, 2019 | 10:47

Tags: #big-brother #easter-egg #nate-mitchell #oculus-rift #oculus-touch #paul-ducklin #virtual-reality #vr

Companies: #facebook #oculus-vr #sophos

Facebook-owned Oculus VR has been left with virtual egg on its face after early production run Touch Controllers were shipped out with internal printing appearing to poke fun at the company's corporate overlord.

Acquired by Facebook back in 2014 following a highly successful private funding and public crowd-funding run, virtual reality specialist Oculus VR has had something of a troubled time adjusting to corporate ownership: From concerns over Facebook's not-exactly-stellar reputation for managing its users privacy to executive departures including Facebook's executive director of engineering and head of display technology at Oculus VR Mary Lou Jepsen, the company's chief operating officer Laird Malamed, co-founder and chief executive officer Brendan Iribe who would be shuffled around in 2016 then quit altogether in 2018, and co-founder Palmer Luckey, while ventures including the Oculus Story Studio content-creation division would prove short-lived.

That said, the company isn't exactly struggling overall: Figures from 2018 gathered by Statista point to a 19.4 percent share of the virtual reality market, comfortably above HTC and its Vive products at 12.9 percent but far short of Sony's near-monopoly for the PlayStation VR kit at a whopping 43 percent. Internal unrest, however, appears to still be an issue - and has leaked out into the world courtesy of sarcastic 'Easter egg' messages printed inside the company's latest Oculus Touch controllers.

Revealed by Oculus VR co-founder and Facebook head of VR Nate Mitchell via Twitter, after hardware reviewers discovered them in the wild, the messages took two forms: The first appears to be the most obvious reference to Facebook's history of privacy issues, warning those dismantling the hardware that 'Big Brother is Watching' while also waving a cheeky hello to pro-repair and detailed tear-down site iFixit with the secondary message 'Hi iFixit! We see you!'; the second, meanwhile, tells the viewer 'This Space For Rent' and that 'The Masons Were Here,' referring to the myth that Freemasons secretly run the world.

'Unfortunately, some "Easter egg" labels meant for prototypes accidentally made it onto the internal hardware for tens of thousands of Touch controllers,' Mitchell claims of the gaffe. 'The messages on final production hardware say "This Space For Rent" & "The Masons Were Here." A few dev kits shipped with "Big Brother is Watching" and "Hi iFixit! We See You!" but those were limited to non-consumer units. While I appreciate Easter eggs, these were inappropriate and should have been removed. The integrity and functionality of the hardware were not compromised, and we've fixed our process so this won't happen again.'

'The hidden messages were presumably there to be found by the more obsessive among the journalists and developers who received prototype and pre-release versions for review,' theorises Sophos' Paul Ducklin in a blog post. 'When you give cool new hardware out hoping to attract publicity, the techies who get it [a] haven’t had to pay for it, [b] don’t have to give it back, and [c] want to know what's inside, so the second first thing they are going to do is…TAKE IT APART!

'Forget about the illusory access control provided by weird pentalobe security bolts, or so-called security screws hidden behind warranty stickers, or those fantastically fine tolerances that are supposed to keep even the thinnest guitar picks and spudgers away from the clips that keep the case together. If it can be taken apart, it will be; and if it can’t, well, it will be anyway – there is no can't. So, why not leave secret messages inside for the early adopters to find and enjoy?'

Oculus VR is not expected to recall the affected controllers, though is unlikely to cover any damages caused by buyers eager to see if their controllers have any hidden messages.


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