Housekeeping Note: Originally, I was going to talk about all three of:
- the updated Oculus Terms of Service;
- 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.
UPDATE Oct. 14th, 2020: Part 2 and part 3 have now been posted.
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):
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.
…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 within 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 the data-mining of 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.
If you choose not to merge your Oculus and Facebook accounts:
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.
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.