Pandemic Diary: September 21st, 2020

Despair
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I don’t know about you, but I woke up this Monday morning feeling exhausted.

Between the pandemic, Trump, and the Facebookening of Oculus, I am feeling angry, depressed, tired, and frankly despairing of our collective future as a society and our ability to handle the many problems and challenges facing us. I keep telling myself that everything that is happening (particularly with the pandemic) is NOT NORMAL and that it is okay to feel overwhelmed. But it’s still been hard. I’m sure you can relate.

And, predictably, my vow to avoid social media and the news media has already been broken. Last night before going to bed, I indulged in a bit of “doomscrolling” in both Twitter, Reddit, and Google News. Which is, no doubt, one of the reasons I woke up every couple of hours last night, and feel so unrefreshed this morning. (Even a vat of black coffee isn’t helping.)

I should know better. First, I should know that trying to make an all-or-nothing deal with myself usually never works; a better approach would be to slowly taper off my social media and news media reading over time, or (in the case of the news), set aside a schedule of set times of day and predetermined, authoritative news sources to follow at those times (for example, spend no more than 20 minutes every evening reading the Globe and Mail newspaper, or the CBC news website).

And I am trying to be more gentle and forgiving with myself. Although those people and companies who have been on the receiving end of my sarcasm and scorn on this blog over the past three years might not believe it, I do tend to be much harder and more unforgiving with myself that I am with other people.

Aaah, well. Live and learn. I am going to continue to push forward, focusing on things that I can do something about, instead of worrying about those I have absolutely zero control over.

And I marvel at this fact: that without Sansar, and without Facebook/Oculus, I would not be where I am right now. I never would have started this blog, I never would have started up the associated Discord server, I never would have launched the Metaverse Newscast with my producer Andrew, I never would have found an audience, and I never would have made so many online friends who are just as interested in and passionate about social VR, virtual worlds and metaverse as I am! Even given how jaded, bitter, and cynical I feel overall about both Sansar and Facebook/Oculus, the fact remains that I am also grateful to these companies (and the many people who work at them) for the unexpected position I now find myself in. Life is truly strange sometimes, how it all works out.

Some of you have reached out to me personally to thank me for things that I have written here (including my early warnings of a possible pandemic back in January and February of this year). And I want to say, from the bottom of my heart to all of you reading this: thank you for your support, your readership, and your comments, perspective, and feedback on what I write. It means the world to me. (Special shout-out to my fabulous Patreon patrons! I love you guys!!!)

And, even on days when it feels like nothing is working out properly, I know that I can always use this blog to vent a bit, and somehow, it tends to make me feel better. Is blogging therapeutic? Perhaps. It’s a sorely needed creative outlet for me at a time when I am finding it hard to feel creative.

Some days (like today), I use a blogpost to get me rolling, and feeling like I am making a small, discrete achievement, before I dive into my work for the day (and believe me, I have no shortage of it at my full-time paying job with my university library system!). The next six weeks in particular are going to be crazy, but I will get through all this, and hopefully, back to my blistering blogging pace of yesteryear 😉

Cheers! Stay healthy and stay sane in these trying and troubled times.

Yes, life is still beautiful. Never forget that.
Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

The Facebookening of Oculus: Taking a Look at the Frequently-Asked Questions Section to Understand What’s Going On (Part 1 of 3)

Housekeeping Note: Originally, I was going to talk about all three of:

  1. the updated Oculus Terms of Service;
  2. the updated Oculus Privacy Policy; and
  3. the frequently-asked questions under “Learn More” (see image below);

all in one blogpost. However, that approach meant that the blogpost would be extremely long (even for me!), so instead, I am breaking it into three more manageable parts. Therefore, this will be part one of three-part series, which looks at that FAQ (item 3) in some detail.

Later on, in parts two and three, I will be taking a look at the updated Terms of Service and Privacy Policy which Oculus users have to agree to in order to continue using their Oculus ID with their Oculus devices (a userid which is currently separate from their Facebook account, if they have one).


As luck would have it, after I had put the finishing touches on yesterday evening’s editorial on the Facebookening of Oculus and went to bed, waiting for me on my computer’s display the next morning was the following pop-up message from Oculus.

(Some Background: This is the high-end desktop gaming PC which I bought and set up specifically to use with my Oculus Rift headset and access the then-closed Sansar alpha/beta in January 2017, which of course was the whole reason I started this blog in the first place.)

I AM NOT A LAWYER, AND YOU SHOULD CONSULT A REAL LAWYER IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS ABOUT THIS. In fact, I would welcome comments from actual lawyers who deal with this sort of corporate legalese every day, and can explain it far better than I ever could to your average consumer. Most end-users simply scroll through such documents and sign off on them without reading them thoroughly (and Facebook is not alone among large companies that count on that).

The text of the Oculus message above reads as follows (for those of you who can’t read the smaller font of the announcement in this image, or if you are visually impaired and use a screen reader):

On October 11th, 2020, we are updating the Oculus Terms of Service and Privacy Policy to reflect that Facebook will become responsible for the Oculus platform and your Oculus information, and to provide more detail about how your information is collected, used, and shared. One that date, you will have the choice to continue using your existing Oculus account and remain under the updated Oculus Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, or use a Facebook account on the platform and agree to new terms. Learn more.

We recommend that you review the updated Oculus Terms of Service and Oculus Privacy Policy.

If you click on the “Learn more” link in the announcement, you are taken to a Frequently-Asked Question (FAQ) page broken down into four sections (it would appear from the construction of the URL for this webpage that they have different versions of this page in different languages, which makes perfect sense):

  • Updates to Facebook Accounts on Oculus
  • Logging into Oculus with a Facebook account
  • Controlling your experience
  • How your data is used

Now, I am not going to look at every single question (mainly because that would make this blogpost as long as War and Peace!), but I am going to touch on several questions and answers in detail.

Question: What changes are coming to accounts on Oculus?

Starting in October 2020:

Everyone using an Oculus device for the first time will need to log in with a Facebook account.

If you are an existing user and already have an Oculus account, you will have the option to log in with Facebook and merge your Oculus and Facebook accounts.

If you are an existing user and choose not to merge your accounts, you can continue using your Oculus account for two years.

Starting In January 2023:

We will end support for Oculus accounts.

If you choose not to merge your accounts at that time, you can continue using your device, but full functionality will require a Facebook account.

We will take steps to allow you to keep using content you have purchased, though some games and apps may no longer work. This could be because they require a Facebook account or because a developer has chosen to no longer support the app or game you purchased.

All future unreleased Oculus devices will require a Facebook account, even if you already have an Oculus account.

Notice this last point in particular. What this likely means, as already pointed out by Sam Machkovech in an August 20th, 2020 Ars Technica editorial titled Why the Facebookening of Oculus VR is bad for users, devs, competition, is:

All of the above commentary has existing headset owners in mind. There’s also the fact that anyone looking into Oculus’ future devices—including current Oculus product owners, who may be keen on transferring their Oculus software licenses to a future VR headset—don’t get 27 months to make up their minds. All unannounced Oculus hardware products going forward will require a Facebook login.

That gives Facebook and Oculus a great opportunity to announce in the very near future that—oops, whaddaya know—they’ve stopped producing all existing hardware. Leaked images of an updated Oculus Quest look shockingly identical to the 2019 version, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see a mild model refresh as a way to force this Facebook-account changeover much sooner. (Otherwise, we might’ve seen the older Quest continue to exist alongside a pricier, fancier “Quest S.” Now, that seems highly unlikely.)

I agree with that Sam says here: it is extremely unlikely that the older Quest and the newer Quest 2 will exist side-by-side to give users an option. And Facebook has already announced that the Oculus Rift S will end sales sometime this spring:

Facebook-owned virtual reality company Oculus is ending sales of the Rift S headset next spring. It’s retiring the PC-based VR device to focus on the standalone Oculus Quest 2, which can also be tethered to a computer through Oculus’ Link feature.

Quest 2 product manager Prabhu Parthasarathy calls the Quest 2’s release “the right moment for us to move to a single headset.” Link, which uses a USB-C cable to support PC VR games on the Quest, was launched experimentally for the original Quest in 2019. The feature will emerge from beta later this year, officially making the $299 Quest 2 a dual-purpose headset.

It seems clear that Facebook wants to go all-in on a single, standalone headset: the Quest 2, a new device which will require you to set up a Facebook account to use. And, later on in the FAQ, it makes this fact crystal clear:

Will a Facebook account be required to use Quest 2 and future Oculus devices?

Yes. Oculus Quest 2 and all future Oculus devices will require a Facebook account.

Question: Why are you making these changes to accounts on Oculus?

Oculus is owned by Facebook and is one of Facebook’s apps and technologies. Using a Facebook account provides a single way to log into Oculus devices and makes it easier to find, connect and play with friends in VR. It also enables Facebook-powered social experiences, like live streaming gameplay to your Facebook timeline, making calls with parties, joining events, and exploring new experiences like Facebook Horizon. And as Facebook adds new privacy and safety tools, they can be added in VR too.

These touted benefits ignore the fact that dozens of existing metaverse platforms, apps, and games (such as Sansar, VRChat, AltspaceVR, NeosVR, and Rec Room, among countless others I have written about on this blog) already have had no problems in “finding, connecting, and playing with friends in VR”. Many metaverse citizens and content creators, and especially avid gamers, already have developed well-known personas across multiple platforms, under a username which they might have first set up over a decade ago in Second Life, for example, or in an even earlier game.

Streaming gameplay to your Facebook timeline or to Facebook groups is unlikely to appeal to those people who are already using Twitch and related services.

As for Facebook Horizon, well, it’s Facebook’s corporate decision that graft the Facebook social network (and all its associated data collection algorithms) onto the forthcoming new social VR platform. It’s not about the touted benefits; it’s about the data, which is how Facebook makes most of its billions of dollars in profit.

As Sam Machkovech notes:

…This transition to a Facebook account requirement is unprecedented in consumer electronics. On the gaming side, no console or connected gaming service has ever required its users’ social network (or even its wholly owned email products) to function. (That means you can use Xbox Live without one of Microsoft’s outlook.com addresses.) The exception is the Google Stadia gaming service, which requires a Google account (inherent in a Gmail address), though it launched with this as a requirement, as opposed to making it a requirement later in the product life cycle.

Also, a Google account is a vastly different beast than Facebook’s version…I can create big-googly-moogly-98761234 as a Google account, or just about any service out there, then attach whatever personally identifying information I want, like a credit card. From there, I can proceed accordingly in terms of saving credentials, racking up a purchase history, and acting responsibly with that account. Meaning: just because I made a wacky account name and bought stuff with it doesn’t mean I can’t be punted from its service for violating the Terms of Service (ToS).

This is how an Oculus ID works. Without spending a penny or confirming your real-life name, you can make a username, build a friends list, and acquire free-to-play software licenses. If you want to buy software or add-ons, you can either add a credit card or claim a prepaid voucher code. And if you violate any ToS, either within an official Oculus app or in a third-party ecosystem, punitive actions can be taken on both your username and your VR headset’s unique ID. They don’t need your name or life history to do that.

And it also leads to an interesting theoretical question: what if Facebook should decide that existing social VR platforms running on Oculus devices will, at some point in the future, have to replace their existing usernames and friendship systems with Facebook’s, as a requirement to staying in the Facebook/Oculus ecosystem?

There is absolutely nothing stopping Facebook from changing the rules of the game later on, in the exact same way that they are changing them now. Such a potential change would be wrenching to many, smaller companies who might feel that they have no choice but to capitulate against the Facebook juggernaut, or go out of business completely. Is this why Facebook warns you that “some games and apps may no longer work” in January 2023?

Yes, this is a theoretical, what-if question, but yet it’s not completely out of the bounds of possibility, is it? I mean, a year or two ago, even people such as Oculus founder Palmer Luckey said that Oculus users wouldn’t need Facebook accounts, right? If Facebook broke that promise, who’s to say they won’t break other assumptions about how existing social VR platforms are “supposed” to work?

Question: Can I still have a profile for VR experiences that is different from my Facebook profile?

Yes. If you already have a unique username from your Oculus account, you will be able to continue using that username in VR. For example: you might be Monique Smith on Facebook, but WarriorMama365 in VR. If you don’t have a VR username, you’ll be able to create one when you set up your profile for VR.

Well, this sounds reasonable. And so does the following:

Question: Will my VR activity be posted to Facebook without my permission?

No. If you log into your Oculus device with your Facebook account, you can choose what information about your VR activity you post to your Facebook profile or timeline, either by giving permission to post or by updating your settings. If you are an existing user and you choose not to merge your Oculus account and Facebook account, you will not have access to Facebook-powered social features and you will not be able to post your VR activity to your Facebook profile or timeline.

Most users have zero interest in posting their VR activity anywhere anyway (and if they do, there’s this wonderful invention called Twitch). These and other dubious “Facebook-powered social features” mean nothing to people who, for the most part, have already left the Facebook social network and have no plans to return.

Question: Do the account changes for Oculus coming this October apply to all countries?

Yes, the Oculus account changes are applicable to all countries where Oculus devices have been sold.

So you aren’t going to be able to get around the Facebook account requirement by buying it online from other country, In Germany, in response to concerns exressed by German regulators about this move, Facebook has suspended sales of all Oculus devices. Ars Technica reports:

Facebook subsidiary Oculus says it has “temporarily paused” sales of Oculus Quest headsets to customers in Germany. Reports suggest the move is in response to concerns from German regulators about the recently announced requirement that all Oculus users will need to use a Facebook account by 2023 to log in to the device…

Facebook declined an opportunity to provide additional comment to Ars Technica. But in a statement to German News site Heise Online (machine translation), the company said the move was due to “outstanding talks with German supervisory authorities… We were not obliged to take this measure, but proactively interrupted the sale.”…

“Regulators in Germany are right to question the legality of this move,” Ray Walsh, a digital privacy expert at ProPrivacy, said in a statement provided to Ars Technica. “Consumers should be allowed to own a device without linking it to Facebook. Forcing users to be part of a social ecosystem is not necessary for the purposes of playing the vast majority of games, and those who wish to play games without social networking should be free to do so.”

Walsh continued: “It seems clear that Facebook is using its market-leading position within the VR industry to bully users into providing data about themselves. Just how much data Facebook is harvesting from headsets is a grey area, but it is clear that the headsets, which have the ability to map people’s homes, have a vast potential for accumulating a wealth of data about users and their homes… The danger for users is that the small amount of data Facebook currently claims to collect from headsets will be widened in the future; with the emergence of social VR platforms such as Facebook Horizons. These will create the perfect ecosystem for gathering data about users in all sorts of problematic ways.”

Frankly, I am surprised that other countries (especially with the European Union) have not yet followed Germany’s lead here, but then again, governments around the world are grappling with a pandemic, so concerns over data-mining users would understandably take a back seat to more pressing priorities. But it raises the question: is Facebook bullying Germany by suspending sales, thus putting additional pressure on the government by angry citizens who cannot buy Oculus devices?

Question: What happens to my data when I log into an Oculus device with my Facebook account?

When you log into your Oculus device with your Facebook account or merge your Oculus and Facebook accounts, we’ll use information related to your use of Oculus and Facebook for purposes such as:

Providing and improving your experience across Facebook products.

Promoting safety and integrity on our services.

Showing you personalized content, including ads, across Facebook products. This could include recommendations for Oculus Events you might like, ads about Facebook apps and technologies, or ads from developers for their VR apps.

Examples of the information we use include:

The VR apps you use, so we can recommend new apps you haven’t tried yet.

Your Facebook friend list, to make it easier to find and interact with your Facebook friends who are also in VR.

Invites and acceptances for events you create.

Information like your name and messaging metadata for chats in VR, so that you have access to your chats across devices.

Your photos and related content like captions, likes and comments if you share photos from VR to Facebook.

Information about your VR activity, like which apps you use, to show you ads for other VR apps you may like.

Information about your activity on other Facebook products, such as Pages you like and groups you join, to recommend content and things to do in VR.

And here, Facebook states that they will use your personal Facebook profile for advertising purposes. I can still remember how annoying advertising was in the Facebook social network when I was a member, before I deleted my account. Can you imagine how annoying advertising is going to be in a social VR platform like Horizon?

And yes, what you do in your Oculus device will impact advertising you see in Facebook:

Question: If I log into Oculus with my Facebook account, will Facebook use my VR activity to inform advertising on Facebook?

Yes. Facebook will use information related to your use of VR and other Facebook products to show you personalized content, including ads, across Facebook products. This could include recommendations for Oculus Events you might like, ads about Facebook apps and technologies, or ads from developers for their VR apps. You can update your interests, choose what Facebook information we use to show you ads and adjust your general ad settings by going to your Ad Preferences page.

Remember, selling your personal data to advertisers is how Facebook still makes most if its money.

Question: Does this mean that ads will now appear in my Oculus devices?

We do not currently display ads in Oculus devices.

The key word in that non-promise is “currently”. No, we don’t currently display ads (but we reserve the right to do so in future if it makes us more money).

Question: Can I choose not to store information about my VR activity with other Facebook apps and technologies?

No. Even if you don’t log into your Oculus device using your Facebook account, we will use your VR information to create a consistent and safer experience across Facebook apps and technologies. For example, taking action on an Oculus account if it is flagged for spam or abuse.

Question: Are you updating the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy?

Yes. Today, the platform is managed by Oculus (also known as Facebook Technologies), which has been part of Facebook since 2014. We will update our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy on October 11th, to reflect that this responsibility will be transferred to Facebook, Inc. (or Facebook Ireland Ltd. for European Region users). In practice, this means Facebook will manage all decisions around use, processing, retention and sharing of your data. This change will apply to all users.

If you choose not to merge your Oculus and Facebook accounts:

We will update the existing Oculus Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, to reflect that Facebook will be responsible for the Oculus platform.

The policy will also provide further details on how your information is collected, used and shared.

We will provide a notice to existing users before the changes take effect.

If you log in to your device with a Facebook account:

We will introduce a Supplemental Oculus Terms of Service and a Supplemental Oculus Data Policy that, together with the Facebook Terms of Service and the Facebook Data Policy respectively, will apply to you.

You will be able to access the terms and policy before logging in with a Facebook account.

So, yes, one way or the other, you will have to sign off on these changes. Please note that Facebook makes it very clear: “Facebook will manage all decisions around use, processing, retention and sharing of your data“.

There is also a small note at the bottom of this FAQ page which states:

Please note, the articles on this page will take effect in October. For more on how logging in with Facebook works today, check out our Social features on Oculus page.

Whew! That was a lot to go through—and we still haven’t even gotten around to looking at the updated Oculus Terms of Service and Oculus Privacy Policy!

Does any of this make me feel that I am making a mistake by personally boycotting Facebook products and services from now on, and selling or giving away my current Oculus Rift and Oculus Quest by January 2023? ABSOLUTELY NOT. If anything, it just strengthens my resolve to steer well clear of anything Facebook from here on out.

Facebook Reality Labs’ new logo

UPDATED Editorial: Some Thoughts on the Facebookening of Oculus

A lot has been written recently about what some are calling the “Facebookening” of Oculus (a term used by Ars Technica in its coverage here and here): renaming Oculus as Facebook Reality Labs, and replacing the annual Oculus Connect event with last week’s Facebook Connect (where, of course, you had to have a Facebook account in order to view this year’s presentations).

Yelena Ratichsky, executive producer of AR/VR media at what is now called Facebook Reality Labs, tweeted:

What are you most excited about for tomorrow’s Connect?

To which I rather boldly replied:

I’m sorry, but I’m not excited. In response to the requirement that I have to set up a Facebook account to use my Oculus devices, I will be selling or giving away my Rift and Quest within the two-year window, and personally boycotting Facebook products and services from now on.

As part of my personal boycott of Facebook products and services, I have been trying to give away my Oculus Quest wireless VR headset to someone else in my family. I asked five of my relatives—and nobody wants it. One of my adult nephews specifically cited not wanting to set up a Facebook account in order to use it. (It looks like it will be donated to my sister-in-law’s workplace; she works at a program for adults with developmental disabilities.)

I have found that so, so much has changed from a year ago, when the first Oculus Quest was released, a product I eagerly bought and reviewed on this blog. I even went so far as to purchase a cable to try out Oculus Link, a PCVR solution for the Quest which worked flawlessly with programs like Sansar that were too graphics-intensive for the standalone headset.

At the time I was so excited by the possibilities of this new technology, and happy that Facebook was working to bring virtual reality to the average consumer. A rising tide lifts all boats, as I like to say. I used to naively think that what benefitted Facebook would benefit us all.

Now, today, I feel zero sense of excitement. Instead I feel a sense of despair, even dread—a deep, foreboding feeling about the future.

Stop and ask yourself why Facebook would decide to forcibly yoke together the Facebook social network with Oculus devices (something Oculus founder Palmer Luckey was promised would never happen when Facebook bought his company):

Oculus founder and Rift inventor Palmer Luckey says he “really believed” Oculus headsets would never need a Facebook sign-in to operate, based on promises made during his time at the company.

Yesterday, Facebook announced that, from October, first-time sign-ins to Oculus headsets would require a Facebook account. Pre-existing Oculus accounts will continue to function as normal until 2023, when Facebook will end support and users will lose unspecified features. When Facebook first bought Oculus in 2014, Oculus executives — including Luckey — gave multiple assurances that users would not need a Facebook account to use their headset.

Following yesterday’s news, Luckey took to Reddit, claiming that he “really believed” Facebook wouldn’t enforce such a requirement and that the company promised him as much on multiple occasions. “I want to make clear that those promises were approved by Facebook in that moment and on an ongoing basis,” Luckey said, “and I really believed it would continue to be the case for a variety of reasons. In hindsight, the downvotes from people with more real-world experience than me were definitely justified.”

While Palmer could hardly be faulted for being young and naive enough to believe promises by Facebook executives that nothing would change (only to be later shown the door), it has now become clear what Mark Zuckerberg’s grand strategy is, and why he spent 3 billion dollars to purchase Oculus in the first place.

It’s all about hopping on what Mark dearly hopes will be the next iPhone, the next big thing, the next must-have device. It’s all about power. It’s all about control. And it’s all about making ridiculous amounts of profit off your personal data.

And I believe that Facebook’s strategy is: to utterly dominate the nascent virtual reality market, to create a lucrative but ultimately limiting walled ecosystem, to crush potential competitors, and to strip-mine your personal data to build an ever more detailed and intrusive personal profile of you—your likes and dislikes, your network of friends, family and coworkers, even biometric data from your Oculus device usage, such as your eye movements—in order to strip-mine it and sell access to that precious data to corporations and campaigns. All with very little oversight.


UPDATE Sept. 21st, 2020: Originally, I had quoted an editorial from Ben Egliston of MENAFN, but I have since discovered that he plagiarized the original editorial, which was written by Marcus Carver of The Conversation, so I have updated this blogpost accordingly to give proper credit where credit is due. (Note to Ben: do not fuck with the librarians, honey; they will find you out! Cite your sources!)

As Marcus Varver has writen has written in an editorial for The Conversation, titled Facebook’s virtual reality push is about data, not gaming:

A VR headset collects data about the user, but also about the outside world. This is one of the key ethical issues of emerging “mixed reality” technologies.

As American VR researcher Jeremy Bailenson has written:

“…commercial VR systems typically track body movements 90 times per second to display the scene appropriately, and high-end systems record 18 types of movements across the head and hands. Consequently, spending 20 minutes in a VR simulation leaves just under 2 million unique recordings of body language.”

The way you move your body can be used to identify you, like a fingerprint, so everything you do in VR could be traced back to your individual identity.

Facebook’s Oculus Quest headsets also use outward-facing cameras to track and map their surroundings.

In late 2019 Facebook said they “don’t collect and store images or 3D maps of your environment on our servers today”. Note the word today, which tech journalist Ben Lang notes makes clear the company is not ruling out anything in the future.


Think that the collection and dissection of that sort of data won’t happen? I have news for you, sweetheart; in many ways, that data collection is already happening. Extending even firmer Facebook control over Oculus devices is simply adding to the existing store of data that Facebook can collect on you.

A little over a year ago, I wrote on this blog (and yes, I will quote what I said at length, because it is important and worth repeating):

Facebook has the resources to capably crush competitors. Strip-mining the data of the estimated 2.7 billion people worldwide who use Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, or Messenger each month has been extremely lucrative for the company. (The five billion dollar fine the U.S. FTC recently levied against Facebook for their privacy lapses was a mere slap on the wrist, given the income the company generates each year from advertising. Mark Zuckerberg probably found the money from his couch cushions.)

Which leads to the point of this editorial: in this evolving metaverse of social VR and virtual worlds, is too much power concentrated in the hands of a single, monolithic, profit-obsessed company? I would argue that Facebook is aiming for complete and utter domination of the VR universe, just as they already have in the social networking space, by creating a walled ecosystem with the Oculus Home and the Oculus Store that will have a negative impact on other companies trying to create and market VR apps and experiences. The field is already tilted too much in Facebook’s favour, and the situation could get worse.

Now, you can argue that Facebook has competition from other VR headsets such as the HTC Vive line of products and the Valve Index. And the Steam software distribution platform is an alternative to the Oculus Store. I understand that my purchased programs from the Oculus Store can still be played on an HTC Vive or Valve Index with the Revive software, which is somewhat reassuring to me (although I suppose there is nothing really stopping Facebook if they choose to block that avenue at some point in the future).

More concerning to me is that, at some point, I may be forced to get an account on the Facebook social network to use apps on my Oculus VR hardware. In fact, this has already happened with the events app Oculus Venues, which I recently discovered requires you to have an account on the Facebook social network to access.

Sorry, but after all the Facebook privacy scandals of the past couple of years, that’s a big, fat “Nope!” from me. I asked Facebook to delete its 13 years of user data on me, and I quit the social network in protest as my New Year’s resolution last December, and I am never coming back. And I am quite sure that many of Facebook’s original users feel exactly the same way, scaling back on their use of the platform or, like me, opting out completely. I regret I ever started using Facebook thirteen years ago, and that experience will inform my use (and avoidance) of other social networks in the future.

Yes, I do know that I have to have an Oculus account to be able to use my Oculus Rift and Oculus Quest VR headsets, and that Facebook is collecting data on that. I also know that the Facebook social network probably has a “shadow account” on me based on things such as images uploaded to the social network and tagged with my name by friends and family, etc., but I am going to assume that Facebook has indeed done what I have asked and removed my data from their social network. Frankly, there is no way for me to actually verify this, as consumers in Canada and the U.S. have zero rights over the data companies like Facebook collects about them, as was vividly brought to life by Dr. David Carroll, whose dogged search for answers to how his personal data was misused in the Cambridge Analytica scandal played a focal role in the Netflix documentary The Great Hack (which I highly recommend you watch).

We’ve already seen how social networks such as Facebook have contributed negatively to society by contributing to the polarization and radicalization of people’s political opinions, and giving a platform to groups such as white supremacists and anti-vaxersThe Great Hack details how Cambridge Analytica used Facebook data without user knowledge or consent to swing the most recent U.S. election in Donald Trump’s favour, and look at the f***ing mess the world is in now just because of that one single, pivotal event.

We can’t trust that Facebook is going to act in any interests other than its own profit. Facebook has way too much power, and governments around the world need to act in the best interests of their citizens in demanding that the company be regulated, even broken up if necessary.

Well, now we know how that went; you will indeed have to set up a Facebook account to use your Oculus VR devices, going forward. All the better to collect, dissect, and sell your personal data to the highest bidder, my dear…and if you think you can get around this niggly little detail by setting up a fake account, well then, don’t be too surprised if you find yourself losing access to your content, and locked out of your VR headset. Facebook expects your real name, and that real-name policy has already generated plenty of controversy, as this link to Wikipedia illustrates.

I am going to give the last word to British journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who was also part of The Great Hack documentary (which I highly recommend you watch on Netflix). She wrote, in a damning Guardian newspaper editorial two months ago :

In 2016, we didn’t know. We were innocent. We still believed social media connected us and that connections were good. That technology equalled progress. And progress equalled better.

Four years on, we know too much. And yet, it turns out, we understand nothing. We know social media is a bin fire and that the world is burning…

In Facebook’s case, the worst has already happened. We’ve just failed to acknowledge it. Failed to reckon with it. And there’s no vaccine coming to the rescue. In 2016 everything changed. As for 2020… well, we will see.

We have already been through the equivalent of a social media pandemic – an unstoppable contagion that has sickened our information space, infected our public discourse, silently and invisibly subverted our electoral systems. It’s no longer about if this will happen all over again. Of course, it will. It hasn’t stopped. The question is whether our political systems, society, democracy, will survive – can survive – the age of Facebook.

We are already through the looking glass. In 2016, a hostile foreign government used Facebook to systematically undermine and subvert an American election. With no consequences. Nobody, no company, no individual or nation state has ever been held to account.

Zuckerberg says Black Lives Matter and yet we know Donald Trump used Facebook’s tools to deliberately suppress and deny black and Latino people the vote. With no consequences.

And though we know the name “Cambridge Analytica” and were momentarily outraged by Facebook’s complicity in allowing 87 million people’s personal data to be stolen and repurposed including by the Trump campaign. A 5 billion dollar fine was paid but no individuals were held to account.

Will Facebook be used to subvert the 2020 US presidential election? Yes. Will Facebook be held to account? No. Are we looking at a system shock that will change America for ever? Yes. Because Trump will either win this election using Facebook or he will lose it using Facebook. Both ways spell disaster. On Sunday, interviewed by a Fox reporter, he refused to say if he would leave the White House if he lost the election.

America, the idea of America, is on the brink. And at the cold, dead heart of the suicide mission it has set itself on, is Facebook. Facebook and America are now indivisible. Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, these are now the bloodstream of American life and politics. A bloodstream that is sick.

And so the world is sick, because American capitalism has been the vector that has brought this infection across the globe. Algorithmically amplified “free speech” with no consequences. Lies spread at speed. Hate freely expressed, freely shared. Ethnic hatred, white supremacy, resurgent Nazism all spreading invisibly, by stealth beyond the naked eye.

This is Facebook’s world now. And we live in it. And if you’re not terrified about what this means it’s because you haven’t been paying attention.


Housekeeping Notes: This editorial was originally labelled Part I, because I suspect that this will be only the first of many editorials I will be writing about Facebook’s role in virtual reality on this blog. For example, Facebook’s decision to stop selling the Oculus Rift in favour of the Oculus Quest 2 is a topic for another day. The August 20th, 2020 Ars Technica editorial by Sam Machkovech, titled Why the Facebookening of Oculus VR is bad for users, devs, competition, raises so many fascinating ideas that it warrants a separate, detailed editorial all on its own. There’s no shortage of stuff to write about here!

And I’m quite sure there will be many other things to talk about as Facebook Horizon rolls out, including the Big Brother-like real-time observation of its users, and I hope that these editorials will spark some lively and informed discussion of the issues.

Will we see a David-versus-Goliath resistance rise up against Facebook in light of its recent policy changes and its ongoing business practices? Who knows what will happen. Facebook has deep pockets to spend on things such as advertising, lawyers, and lobbyists to get its own way. But it will be fascinating to watch it all unfold, nonetheless. We could well be seeing the first major ethical and ideological battle of the new age of the metaverse taking place.

So, what do you think? Please feel free to leave a comment below, or better yet, join the ongoing discussions, debates, and arguments about all aspects of social VR, virtual worlds, and the ever-evolving metaverse on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server. We’d love to hear your opinions on all this!

P.S. Yes, I still intend to take a break from social media and news media (well, as best I can, anyways) from now until after the U.S. federal election. I have no doubt my readers will alert me if something major happens over the next two months!

Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: A Reminder to Pick Up All the Uber Anniversary Gifts!

I am here to remind all you Second Life freebie fashionistas that it is the perfect weekend to pop down to the sixth anniversary round of the monthly Uber shopping event, which ends on Sept. 22nd, 2020 (here is my original blogpost with pictures of many of the gifts). It’s no longer crowded, you can shop in peace, and you can pick up scores and scores of free gifts (you don’t need to join any group).

Everything my goth girl avatar Nada Nix is wearing in this picture (except for the body, head, and hair) is a free group gift from Uber! The T-shirt from Miss Chelsea succinctly sums up 2020 with a one-star review: Total crap. Would not recommend.

My feelings exactly!

Nada is wearing:

  • Choker: Reckless studded choker by AVEC TOI (comes with a fatpack HUD)
  • T-Shirt: the Brin 2020 T-shirt by Miss Chelsea
  • Skirt: the Mara jersey skirt in red by Jeune
  • Combat boots: Rev boots by Memoire; these come in sizes to fit both male (Legacy, Belleza Jake) and female (Legacy, Belleza Freya, Maitreya Lara, Slink Hourglass) feet.

Here’s your taxi to Uber. I will leave you with a video by SL vlogger Cat Pink, showing you a selection of some of the other gifts available:

Happy freebie shopping!


Thanks to Aline Passiflora of the FabFree blog for the reminder!