UPDATED! Editorial: Facebook is Rebranding (And Why It Won’t Make Any Difference)

Anybody notice anything interesting about Facebook’s website for the next Connect conference, which is coming up on October 28th, 2021?

What used to be called “Oculus Connect” for many years, and then was renamed to “Facebook Connect” last year, is now suddenly just “Connect”. You have to scroll down, and hunt around a bit, to find any mention of Facebook on the homepage!

At first I just assumed that (like the renaming of Facebook Horizon to Horizon Worlds), it was a PR move to lessen the association of the now-problematic Facebook brand with the event. But it would appear that it’s more than that.

According to an article published yesterday in The Verge, Facebook is rebranding:

Facebook is planning to change its company name next week to reflect its focus on building the metaverse, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter.

The coming name change, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to talk about at the company’s annual Connect conference on October 28th, but could unveil sooner, is meant to signal the tech giant’s ambition to be known for more than social media and all the ills that entail. The rebrand would likely position the blue Facebook app as one of many products under a parent company overseeing groups like Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus, and more. A spokesperson for Facebook declined to comment for this story.

Facebook already has more than 10,000 employees building consumer hardware like AR glasses that Zuckerberg believes will eventually be as ubiquitous as smartphones. In July, he told The Verge that, over the next several years, “we will effectively transition from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company.”

A rebrand could also serve to further separate the futuristic work Zuckerberg is focused on from the intense scrutiny Facebook is currently under for the way its social platform operates today. A former employee turned whistleblower, Frances Haugen, recently leaked a trove of damning internal documents to The Wall Street Journal and testified about them before Congress. Antitrust regulators in the US and elsewhere are trying to break the company up, and public trust in how Facebook does business is falling.

I’m willing to bet that the new company name for Facebook will be some form of the word “Horizon”, especially given the that they have renamed Facebook Horizon to Horizon Worlds, and released a corporate social VR platform called Horizon Workrooms. (And I hope that whoever owns the website domain names associated with whatever name they pick makes a whack of money from the sale to Facebook, like the lucky person who originally owned the domain workrooms.com!)

But really, all this is is just a name change. The same fundamental problems that Facebook has are still there; slapping a fresh coat on paint on everything is not going to fix the fact that Facebook requires you to set up an account on its social network in order to use Oculus VR headsets going forward. More and more, people are realizing that it’s not a good ides to trust Facebook with your personal data. As I have written before on this blog:

Another firmly-held opinion: Facebook Inc. has too much influence on virtual reality and the metaverse already. Facebook is a juggernaut, hoping to leverage their existing massive stranglehold on social media (and all its attendant societal ills), not to mention its strip-mining of all the personal data it collects on you (sometimes even without your knowledge or consent; see: the Flo period tracker app), in order to become the dominant player in any market it targets. Witness its recent foray into social audio for just one recent example. Sometimes, it feels like Facebook is just extending itself into every single possible category of product.

Some will respond that Google, Apple, Amazon, and many other firms commit the same level of personal data vacuuming that Facebook does, which is true. However, I actually have more faith that those companies will at least not weaponize their data against me. Few companies have seen the level of public distrust rise as high as Facebook (and frankly, the company’s recent fight with Apple over the latter wanting to make transparent how much data Facebook collects on you, is SO not a good look for Mark Z.).

Time and time again over the years, Facebook has shown that it cannot be trusted (see: the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the incitement of violence in Myanmar, to give just two relatively recent examples of egregious behaviour happening on the platform). Combine that lack of trust with its overweening ambitions, and you have a potentially serious problem.

For me, the absolute final straw came last October, when Facebook announced that owners of Oculus VR headsets had a two-year window to obtain accounts on the Facebook social network for their devices, or potentially lose functionality. (By the way, Facebook has responded to Germany, the only nation I know of so far that has sounded the alarm about forcibly yoking Oculus hardware users to Facebook accounts, by suspending all Oculus sales in that country. As far as I am aware, this is still the case. German consumers can still buy Oculus headsets online from other countries such as France, however.)

I responded by voting with my feet and my wallet, deleting my Facebook and Oculus accounts, and vowing to never again purchase or participate in any Facebook/Oculus hardware and software, a decision which I explain here, and one which I continue to stand by in good conscience. I full well realize that I might be missing out, but I consider the price of admission to be too high (and frankly, too opaque). God knows how my personal data is being used, and Facebook’s track record frankly sucks.

I even went so far as to ask Facebook to delete all the data it had on me, but I also know that the Facebook social network probably has some sort of “shadow account” on me, based on things such as images uploaded to the social network and tagged with my name by friends and family who are still on Facebook. 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, by the way, I very strongly recommend you watch).

And need I remind you that the January 6th, 2021 insurrectionists in Washington, D.C. also used Facebook to help organize? Not to mention the misinformation, disinformation, and crazy conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and vaccines circulating on the platform (although this is a problem on other social media as well). The Facebook social network and its algorithms have become a toxic cesspool, and anything that touches it, or (in the case of Oculus) forcibly integrated with it, becomes tainted by association.

So no, a name change is not enough—not nearly enough.

UPDATE 1:45 p.m.: Of course, Twitter is all over the Facebook rebranding news with its trademark snark. Here’s just a sample of the responses in my feed today:

In fact, the entire Twitter thread by Rick Wilson is required reading! Despite Rick’s feeling that nothing will be done about Facebook, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine announced that he has added Mark Zuckerberg to a lawsuit relating to the Cambridge Analytica scandal:

UPDATE 2:48 p.m.: I forgot to mention that Carol Cadwalladr of the Guardian (the reporter who broke the Cambridge Analytica scandal) wrote the following in an Oct. 10th, 2021 article titled The latest revelations mark the beginning of the end for the House of Zuckerberg:

And perhaps most toxic of all is the radioactive waste left by the Cambridge Analytica scandal. A new shareholder lawsuit, filed in Delaware, based on freshly disclosed internal documents, claims it can prove that Facebook senior executives and board members lied to investors. If it can do that, it will set in motion a chain of consequences that will make Enron look like a teddy bears’ picnic.

Three years ago, Sandy Parakilas, an earlier Facebook whistleblower, explained to me the power of the SEC, which regulates the financial markets, by telling me that in America, money will enable you to get away with most things. “But the one thing you can’t do,” he said, “is to fuck with our capitalism.”

The UN found Facebook helped facilitate a genocide in Myanmar. We know that it helped foment an insurrection at the US Capitol. And its own research says it is harming teenagers. (A 2019 Facebook presentation slide, just revealed, said: “We make body-image issues worse for one in three teenage girls.”)

That’s all fine, it turns out, but if this suit can prove it’s lied to investors, someone is going to jail. If I were a Facebook employee, I’d be browsing the whistleblower section of the SEC’s website, which grants immunity from prosecution, very, very carefully.

In other words, both the Delaware and D.C. lawsuits mean that Facebook is in serious, serious trouble—no matter what they call themselves.

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