The Most Important News In Tech This Week

Photographed by Jessica Nash.
There's so much happening in the world of tech. It can be hard to stay on top of things, and hard to know what actually matters — what you should care about knowing, and what's worth your time.

To give you a quick rundown, we've rounded up five pieces of information that you need to know in order to be casually and conversationally knowledgeable about what's happening. 

The Oculus Rift VR Headset Is Shipping Early 2016
Facebook-owned Oculus Rift will begin shipping its virtual-reality headset to the masses beginning Q1 2016, the company announced in a tweet Wednesday morning. 

Why This Matters: Virtual reality isn't just an experience limited to science fiction. The Samsung Galaxy Note 4-based Gear VR is available now, and Sony and Microsoft have their own virtual-reality headsets in the works (Project Morpheus and the Hololens, respectively). Oculus, as the first of these major headsets to be available to consumers, will be the first to show whether virtual reality's practical applications can extend beyond gaming — and whether society is actually ready to experience the world through a device that's strapped to our faces. 

Court Rules NSA's Domestic Spying Program Is Illegal
A U.S. Circuit Court declared that the National Security Agency's bulk collection of American telephone records was not authorized by Congress and is illegal. The Bush and Obama administrations claimed that this widespread data collection, first exposed by Edward Snowden in 2013, was allowed under the Patriot Act. It includes collecting which phone numbers are called, at what times, and how long the phone calls last — so the NSA can search for possible terrorism suspects.

Why This Matters: Part of the Patriot Act is set to expire in June, so this is a hot topic for lawmakers right now. Should this section of the Patriot Act be renewed? Should the government keep surveillance on innocent citizens? Republicans want to continue the current program, but the House Judiciary Committee recently passed a bill requiring the government to obtain records case-by-case instead of in bulk. 

Snapchat Has 2016 Election-Coverage Ambitions
As it plans to publish its own content, Snapchat hired CNN political correspondent Peter Hamby to head its news division. 

Why This Matters: Getting the 18-to-31 set informed and motivated to vote is a challenge every election cycle. With Hamby's experience with social media and digital news coverage, we could see really interesting Snapchat-based coverage in the near future — like Snapchat stories from a candidate's speech in Georgia, or a specific channel within Snapchat's Discover feature that gives you quick news and politics stories. 

Zenefits Raises $500 Million In Funding
Zenefits, a San Francisco start-up that acts as an automated HR department for small businesses, raised $500 million in funding at a $4.5 billion valuation. Zenefits is actually making a change in the well-established insurance brokerage industry: It's used by 10,000 companies and makes roughly $450 a year off each employee that signs up for insurance or benefits through its software. 

Why This Matters: A lot of Silicon Valley start-ups aim at making a quick buck by copycatting some other popular app or fulfilling some mundane first-world problem we're too lazy to do ourselves (not that we don't appreciate that). Zenefits is fulfilling an important need, serving companies that are too small to have their own HR departments and not experienced enough to follow through with complicated Affordable Care Act rules. Since it's changing the status quo, this start-up is butting heads with state regulators.  

Sheryl Sandberg's Husband Dave Goldberg Died Suddenly Friday Night
Dave Goldberg, the husband of Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook and Lean In author) passed away suddenly Friday evening, reportedly after exercising. Sandberg penned a touching tribute on Facebook. While Sandberg may have outshined Goldberg in the press lately, Goldberg was a huge force in Silicon Valley himself — the CEO of SurveyMonkey and, in the '90s, co-founder of the music service Launch.

As Recode's Kara Swisher wrote, "he clearly understood the importance of diversity and fairness in all things and how it made everyone stronger." With all the bros out there, it's sad to lose someone who was a leading example for equality and inclusivity in tech.

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