With every bit of new technology that hits the market, it’s hard not to wonder: in what previously unimagined ways will this compromise my privacy? Turns out that’s also something very much on the mind of the people who make the latest gear. On Thursday, Oculus co-founder Nate Mitchell informed the public via Twitter that tens of thousands of Oculus Touch controllers have shipped with creepy privacy-related Easter egg messages hidden on their internal hardware.
Crack open one of these controllers and in the device’s guts you might find a message like “The Masons were here” inscribed on a cable. Other devices apparently shipped with “Big Brother Is Watching,” but according to Mitchell only developer kits have that joke inscribed in them.
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. [2/3] pic.twitter.com/po1qyQ10Um
— Nate Mitchell (@natemitchell) April 12, 2019
Mitchell’s statement goes on to apologise for these Easter eggs slipping past the prototype phase and into production, calling them “inappropriate” and saying their internal processes have been changed to avoid this happening again.
According to a report from Business Insider, the affected Touch controllers are meant to ship with the upcoming Rift S and Oculus Quest headsets, and are not yet available. There are no plans to recall the controllers.
The messages are a bit of bleak, uncomfortable gallows humour from the Facebook-owned company, given how powerful – and delinquent – Facebook has been in the realm of online privacy. It’s a bit of real-world context that takes a very common practice (plenty of creative industries from automakers to, well, video games, are full of hidden Easter eggs) and gives it a discomfiting layer. Sure, maybe it’s all in good fun, but it could only be funny if the company making the joke actually took privacy seriously.