Meta Quest Pro could be Meta’s most intrusive product yet

Make sure you’re smiling: the Meta Quest Pro will track your facial expressions – and a set of cameras raise serious privacy concerns.

Meta has unveiled its new high-end headset, coming with a hefty $1,500 price tag. More of a mixed reality than virtual reality device, the Quest Pro is claimed to have much better performance than the Meta Quest 2, thanks to the new Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2+ platform, which is optimized for VR.

"Instead of being confined to the dimensions of your desk, you can set up a big virtual workspace with multiple screens spread all around you while still using your physical keyboard and mouse in productivity apps like Immersed," says the company in a blog.

The Meta Quest Pro has a sleeker design, with thinner pancake optic lenses on the front and a curved battery on the head strap at the back. There are various other improvements, from a clearer, sharper display to improved RAM and storage.

More cameras than a gang of paparazzi

However, the biggest addition to the headset is a new set of cameras. There are five inward-facing cameras in the headset's interior, five on the exterior, and another three on each of the Touch Pro controllers.

The exterior cameras, says the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg, will allow the device to scan more than just the hand and head movements, finally giving avatars legs. But it's the inward-facing cameras that are causing concern.

These allow the device to track the user's eye movements, as well as their facial expression. And while it's possible to opt-out of both, they're pretty fundamental to the device's operation.

"Whether you’re working in a virtual office in Meta Horizon Workrooms or hanging out with friends and family you can’t otherwise see in person, it’s important to have avatars that not only look like you, but can move and express themselves like you would in real life," says Meta.

"With eye tracking and Natural Facial Expressions, Meta Quest Pro brings us a step closer to showing your authentic self in the metaverse."

Data collection

The eye tracking feature involves analyzing images of the user's eyes to estimate where they are focused – which the company calls 'abstracted gaze data'. The raw image data is deleted as soon as the abstracted gaze data has been generated, with the latter being overwritten in real-time.

However, says Meta in its privacy policy, certain apps will request access to the abstracted gaze data — which will be subject to that app's privacy policy.

"We do not control how a third-party app uses, stores, or shares your abstracted gaze data, so you should only allow access to your data to apps that you trust," it says.

As for Natural Facial Expressions, this feature is also based on data from the five interior cameras and is used to estimate how the user's face is moving before reproducing it on their avatar.

Data is processed in a similar way to the eye tracking data and again shared with third-party apps with the user's permission. However, it’s not clear how that information will be used upon granted permission.

And Meta has a questionable record when it comes to collecting, exploiting, and sharing user data. Over the years, it's been accused of dozens of privacy violations, from the Cambridge Analytica scandal to repeated revelations that personal data was being illicitly shared with advertisers.

Finally, while the Meta Quest Pro's data collection is entirely voluntary, the device will have limited functionality without it.

Meanwhile, Meta is pitching the Quest Pro heavily for enterprises, as well as for enthusiastic home users – meaning people could be required to use them for work. 'Voluntary' might not always suggest free choice, after all.

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