UPDATED! Saying Good Bye to Facebook, for Good: Taking the Final Step (Plus a Look at All the Personal Data the Oculus App Collects and Sends to Facebook)

Today, I took the final step…

Today, I took the final step in my emancipation from Facebook and Oculus. I did a factory reset on my original version Oculus Quest, de-associating my Oculus account from it, and wiping all the games and apps on it. Then, I deleted the Oculus app from my cellphone. Two simple steps, and I am now completely free of Facebook! (The Quest 1 will be going to my sister-in-law in Alberta, where she plans to use it in her work with developmentally-challenged adults. It will have a good second home.)

I’ll admit that I was sitting on the fence for a little while, as I wrote about here. While replacing my Oculus Rift with a Valve Index was an easy, painless upgrade (and I’m quite happy with it), there’s currently no competition for the wireless Oculus Quest VR headset. It’s a great headset, but I can no longer in good conscience sign on to the associated vacuuming of my personal data that comes with the deal, and I just absolutely, resolutely refuse to set up an account on the Facebook social network for my Oculus Quest.

What finally pushed me into making this final decision was a recent tweet by social VR app developer Cix Liv, who posted the following:

Just to put in perspective the corporate lies of @FBRealityLabs [Facebook Reality Labs] in perspective. @boztank [Andrew Bosworth, Vice President of Facebook Reality Labs at Facebook] says there will be a “big shift in privacy”. Meanwhile the Oculus app tracks you even more than their Facebook app. Check it yourself.

A brief fly-through of the Oculus app privacy statement, which you need to install in order to activate your Quest (you can check it out yourself in the App Store, or just scroll down to the update at the end of this blogpost to see the list in full)

Cix Liv is one of those developers whose idea for a VR app was poached by Facebook, a story you can read about in a December 3rd, 2020, Bloomberg News article titled Facebook Accused of Squeezing Rival Startups in Virtual Reality (original articlearchived link).

Now, you might tell me that I am overreacting in singling out Facebook as the target of my ire. Of course, I do know that other Big Tech companies like Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft strip-mine my personal data as well. The issue is one of TRUST. And frankly, I no longer trust Facebook Inc., while I still retain at least some level of trust that Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft will not abuse the data they have on me. In an editorial I wrote way back in August of 2019, I said:

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.

Well, as it turns out, Facebook did do an about-face, change the rules, and insist that Oculus VR headset users will have to get accounts on the Facebook social network for their devices to continue to work “properly”. While I still have an Oculus account (and, at least at first glance at the Oculus website, there appears to be no way to actually delete that account*), I no longer run any Facebook or Oculus apps on my desktop computer or any of my mobile devices. Facebook may still have a “shadow account” on me, but at least I can feel comfortable that I am no longer actively sending them any data from any Facebook/Oculus apps. Good bye and good riddance!

As for this blog, I will, of course, continue to write about Facebook, Oculus, and Facebook’s own social VR platform, Facebook Horizon—just not from a first-person perspective! I do not feel that I am missing out on anything by the stance that I have taken.

Freedom from Facebook!

Free from Facebook, at last! It feels great.

*Found it! I have now asked Facebook to delete my Oculus account, too.

UPDATE Feb. 18th, 2021: I have decided to cut and paste the entire App Privacy statement from Apple’s App Store for the Oculus app below, so you can read for yourself just how much data the app shares with Facebook Inc.!


App Privacy

The developer, Facebook Technologies, LLC, indicated that the app’s privacy practices may include handling of data as described below. This information has not been verified by Apple. For more information, see the developer’s privacy policy.

To help you better understand the developer’s responses, see Privacy Definitions and Examples.

Privacy practices may vary, for example, based on the features you use or your age. Learn More

Data Linked to You

The following data, which may be collected and linked to your identity, may be used for the following purposes:

Third-Party Advertising

Purchases
  • Purchase History
Financial Info
  • Other Financial Info
Location
  • Precise Location
  • Coarse Location
Contact Info
  • Physical Address
  • Email Address
  • Name
  • Phone Number
  • Other User Contact Info
Contacts
  • Contacts
User Content
  • Photos or Videos
  • Gameplay Content
  • Other User Content
Search History
  • Search History
Browsing History
  • Browsing History
Identifiers
  • User ID
  • Device ID
Usage Data
  • Product Interaction
  • Advertising Data
  • Other Usage Data
Diagnostics
  • Crash Data
  • Performance Data
  • Other Diagnostic Data
Other Data
  • Other Data Types

Developer’s Advertising or Marketing

Purchases
  • Purchase History
Financial Info
  • Other Financial Info
Location
  • Precise Location
  • Coarse Location
Contact Info
  • Physical Address
  • Email Address
  • Name
  • Phone Number
  • Other User Contact Info
Contacts
  • Contacts
User Content
  • Photos or Videos
  • Gameplay Content
  • Other User Content
Search History
  • Search History
Browsing History
  • Browsing History
Identifiers
  • User ID
  • Device ID
Usage Data
  • Product Interaction
  • Advertising Data
  • Other Usage Data
Diagnostics
  • Crash Data
  • Performance Data
  • Other Diagnostic Data
Other Data
  • Other Data Types

Analytics

Health & Fitness
  • Health
  • Fitness
Purchases
  • Purchase History
Financial Info
  • Payment Info
  • Other Financial Info
Location
  • Precise Location
  • Coarse Location
Contact Info
  • Physical Address
  • Email Address
  • Name
  • Phone Number
  • Other User Contact Info
Contacts
  • Contacts
User Content
  • Photos or Videos
  • Audio Data
  • Gameplay Content
  • Customer Support
  • Other User Content
Search History
  • Search History
Browsing History
  • Browsing History
Identifiers
  • User ID
  • Device ID
Usage Data
  • Product Interaction
  • Advertising Data
  • Other Usage Data
Sensitive Info
  • Sensitive Info
Diagnostics
  • Crash Data
  • Performance Data
  • Other Diagnostic Data
Other Data
  • Other Data Types

Product Personalization

Purchases
  • Purchase History
Financial Info
  • Other Financial Info
Location
  • Precise Location
  • Coarse Location
Contact Info
  • Physical Address
  • Email Address
  • Name
  • Phone Number
  • Other User Contact Info
Contacts
  • Contacts
User Content
  • Photos or Videos
  • Gameplay Content
  • Other User Content
Search History
  • Search History
Browsing History
  • Browsing History
Identifiers
  • User ID
  • Device ID
Usage Data
  • Product Interaction
  • Advertising Data
  • Other Usage Data
Sensitive Info
  • Sensitive Info
Diagnostics
  • Crash Data
  • Performance Data
  • Other Diagnostic Data
Other Data
  • Other Data Types

App Functionality

Health & Fitness
  • Health
  • Fitness
Purchases
  • Purchase History
Financial Info
  • Payment Info
  • Credit Info
  • Other Financial Info
Location
  • Precise Location
  • Coarse Location
Contact Info
  • Physical Address
  • Email Address
  • Name
  • Phone Number
  • Other User Contact Info
Contacts
  • Contacts
User Content
  • Emails or Text Messages
  • Photos or Videos
  • Audio Data
  • Gameplay Content
  • Customer Support
  • Other User Content
Search History
  • Search History
Browsing History
  • Browsing History
Identifiers
  • User ID
  • Device ID
Usage Data
  • Product Interaction
  • Advertising Data
  • Other Usage Data
Sensitive Info
  • Sensitive Info
Diagnostics
  • Crash Data
  • Performance Data
  • Other Diagnostic Data
Other Data
  • Other Data Types

Other Purposes

Purchases
  • Purchase History
Financial Info
  • Other Financial Info
Location
  • Precise Location
  • Coarse Location
Contact Info
  • Physical Address
  • Email Address
  • Name
  • Phone Number
  • Other User Contact Info
Contacts
  • Contacts
User Content
  • Photos or Videos
  • Gameplay Content
  • Customer Support
  • Other User Content
Search History
  • Search History
Browsing History
  • Browsing History
Identifiers
  • User ID
  • Device ID
Usage Data
  • Product Interaction
  • Advertising Data
  • Other Usage Data
Diagnostics
  • Crash Data
  • Performance Data
  • Other Diagnostic Data
Other Data
  • Other Data Types

Wow…that’s a LOT. Why does Oculus need my search history and my browsing history, for example? Or my health and fitness data? And I’d love to know more details about this so-called “Sensitive Info”. What the hell’s that?

I understand that Facebook is currently fighting a battle with Apple over the amount and kind of privacy information being released to the consumer (according to this Harvard Business Review article and other sources).

Pandemic Diary: January 23rd, 2021: Happy Birthday to Me

My brother called me this morning at 9:00 a.m.. I had slept in, and he left a message for me to call him. When I did get up later this morning, I saw that he had called, and since he telephones me so infrequently (we usually text), my first thought is that it was an emergency, and I called him back.

Only to have him wish me a happy birthday! I had completely forgotten that today is my 57th birthday!! I told him on the phone, as we shared a good laugh, that every day is so much like every other day while I have been working from home in self-isolation for my university library system during the pandemic. All my days tend to run together!

As a birthday present, the Manitoba government has slightly lifted a few restrictions in our province-wide, code-red pandemic lockdown, which has been in place since early November.

Each household can now have a maximum of two external visitors (and no, they can’t be two different people every time; it has to be the same two people). And stores selling non-essential items (books, clothing, consumer electronics, etc.) can now reopen, provided they operate at 25% of their normal store capacity and practice social distancing, face masking, etc.

The timing is perfect, as my trusty iPad 2 has finally bit the dust. I had used it almost every day for the past ten years; the thing was built like a tank! I often would use it to watch Netflix movies or TV, while lying on my sofa in the evenings.

There is a (single) Apple store way up here in the frozen prairie hinterlands of Winnipeg, but I may opt to do my shopping online instead, as I did for my Valve Index. I really don’t feel comfortable walking into any shopping mall right now, even with a face mask and practicing social distancing.

Canada is experiencing delays in vaccine production and delivery, and I am becoming extremely worried about all the new coronavirus variants popping up in the U.K., South Africa, and many other places. It is possible that many vaccines and vaccine candidates will have to be rejigged to handle at least some of these mutations of the virus. The very thought makes me anxious. We are not out of the woods yet! A Manitoba doctor tweeted the following disheartening update yesterday:

Oh, and the Manitoba provincial government also announced that barbers and hair stylists were allowed to reopen, too, provided they adhere to the same restrictions as stores, plus take contact information on all their customers, in case any contact tracing is needed. My mother will be so happy; she has wanted to get her hair cut and styled!

So, next weekend, I will drive across the city to pay a socially-distanced visit to my mother and stepfather at their seniors life-lease condo, and we will finally exchange our Christmas presents, a month late! And I will receive my mom’s birthday present; I told her cash would be a perfectly acceptable gift! (I don’t want to set foot in a bank, or touch a germy ATM number pad, if I don’t have to, and having a little spending money in my wallet can come in handy at times.)

I am still struggling with depression and anxiety at times, but I am coping as best as I can. I hope that you are staying safe and healthy!

Apple Plans to Release a Virtual Reality Headset Next Year, According to Leaked Details in a Bloomberg News Report

Anonymous insiders have finally shared a few juicy details of Apple’s plans for a VR headset, a development that has been hinted at and highly anticipated by many tech observers. Bloomberg business reporter Mark Gurman tweeted four hours ago:

New story: Apple plans its first headset to be a high-end, niche VR-focused device as a precursor to its future AR glasses. Details on the headset’s design, prescription lens system, inclusion of a fan, features, development hurdles, and more:

The Bloomberg news story linked to Mark’s tweet, titled Apple’s First Headset to Be Niche Precursor to Eventual AR Glasses (original version; archived version) says in part:

Apple Inc.’s first crack at a headset is designed to be a pricey, niche precursor to a more ambitious augmented reality product that will take longer to develop, according to people with knowledge of the matter. 

As a mostly virtual reality device, it will display an all-encompassing 3-D digital environment for gaming, watching video and communicating. AR functionality, the ability to overlay images and information over a view of the real world, will be more limited. Apple has planned to launch the product as soon as 2022, going up against Facebook Inc.’s Oculus, Sony Corp.’s PlayStation VR and headsets from HTC Corp., the people said. They asked not to be identified discussing private plans. 

Gurman’s report has reignited feverish commentary and speculation within tech media (The Verge, Ars Technica, Apple Insider), which quickly began to ripple out to the mainstream news media (USA Today). The Apple VR headset is rumoured to be a high-end standalone (untethered) device, perhaps costing in the neighbourhood of the Valve Index headset (around US$1,000).

One disappointing piece of news is that the rumoured Apple VR headset will not have extra room for people who wear glasses (as I do), opting instead for prescription lenses, an additional expense for those of us with less-than-perfect vision. This will no doubt complicate both the sale and setup of the system.

Among the details leaked in the Gurman report was that Apple “may sell only one headset per day per retail store” of the high-end VR device, which on first reading sounds rather absurdly low to me. Surely, an Apple-branded VR headset would sell like hotcakes, regardless of price?

Anyway, things are definitely getting interesting. Stay tuned! Hopefully we will learn more about Apple’s plans for virtual reality and augmented reality this year.

UPDATED! Big Tech Bans Donald Trump (And Kent Bye Sounds a Warning)

I must confess that I haven’t been very active in social VR and virtual worlds this week, glued as I have been to the news media, Twitter, and Reddit, since Wednesday’s U.S. Capitol riot.

In the past 48 hours, many Big Tech companies have acted to ban or impose restrictions on Donald Trump’s accounts (a step which should have been taken long ago, in my opinion). In a deliciously ironic twist, even TikTok (a platform which Trump threatened to ban) has banned the soon-to-be-ex-president!

Notably, Twitter permanently suspended Donald Trump’s account, cutting him off from his millions of Twitter followers at the push of a button. When Trump tried to evade that by tweeting from other accounts, those were also quickly suspended.

My measured response to Trump’s comeuppance late Friday evening is best summarized by this five-second TikTok video someone tweeted:

Buh-bye, Donald Trump! Don’t let the door hit you on the way out…

UPDATE 9:26 p.m.: The New York Times is reporting that three Big Tech companies have acted to take down a platform where many speculated Donald Trump would land up after being evicted from Twitter, the right-wing social media app Parler (original version of the NYT article; archived version). Yesterday, Google removed the Parler app from its Google Play store, and today Apple followed suit, removing Parler from the Apple app store. Apple’s and Google’s actions mean that users would have no way to install or update the Parler app on their mobile devices (although Android device users could theoretically still sideload the app). And later today, Amazon, bowing to pressure from its employees, decided to remove Parler from its web-hosting service, effectively crippling a service which had relied on Amazon Web Services to operate. It looks as though Parler is doomed; even more reason to rejoice!

However, Kent Bye sounds a cautionary note in this must-read thread of tweets, saying:

Centralized Big Tech platforms have been the defacto police of dangerous speech and harassment. They’ve historically done a terrible job reining it in (ask any woman, LGBTQ, BIPOC, etc). But it’s also a cultural issue not solvable via purely technological, deterministic means.

As soon as anti-democratic populists move to completely decentralized networks and encrypted, peer-to-peer communication networks, there isn’t going to be any technological deterministic “ban hammer” method of mitigating dangerous speech, aside from banning underlying peer-to-peer tech.

Again, I’d strongly urge you to read through his entire Twitter thread of reasoning. Kent argues that we are only seeing “the beginning of a new cycle of violence, and not the end”.