Facebook is certainly dealing with its fair share of privacy snafus at the moment, a number that’s swelled considerably over the past 12 months or so. But its latest headache sounds almost too weird to be true.
Oculus cofounder Nate Mitchell, whose company is of course owned by Facebook, acknowledged on Twitter Friday that weird secret messages were “accidentally” hidden in “tens of thousands” of the virtual reality controllers. Messages like: “Big Brother is Watching” and “This Space for Rent.”
As if that wasn’t bad enough, it seems that while none of the devices containing the hidden messages have landed in customers’ hands yet, they will be as it’s apparently too late to stop their shipment. According to Mitchell, the specific products at issue are Touch controllers for the Quest and Rift S that haven’t yet shipped, compared to the current Touch controllers that have already begun shipping with the Rift.
“Unfortunately, some ‘easter egg’ labels meant for prototypes accidentally made it onto the internal hardware for tens of thousands of Touch controllers,” Mitchell tweeted. The messages on the final production hardware, which will actually be hidden inside the controllers, also include “The Masons Were Here,” while some developer kits limited to non-consumer units shipped with messages like “Hi iFixit! We See You!” as well as the message about ‘Big Brother.’
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. [3/3]
— Nate Mitchell (@natemitchell) April 12, 2019
To be clear, most Oculus users who have a device that includes any of these hidden messages will never actually see them. According to a Facebook representative quoted by Business Insider, the messages are hidden on an internal component of the touch controller.
Still, the fact that Facebook, of all companies, is having to publicly apologize for shipping a product with secret messages like the one touting Big Brother — I mean, Facebook itself is already seen in the minds of some people as an all-seeing Big Brother, with a ravenous appetite for all of the data on users that it can possibly hoover up. I’d argue that the company’s much touted imminent shift of emphasis towards messaging, subtly moving away from the “public square” of the News Feed, is in part a reaction to declining usage that stems from its users’ concerns about privacy.
This latest news is doubly frustrating, since some of the messages make it seem like the company making light of privacy concerns. But, as we all know whenever Facebook finds itself under scrutiny, this too shall pass. Rinse, repeat. Until the next scandal comes along.