As longtime readers of my blog know full well, I have already severed all ties to Meta hardware and software, even going so far as to vote with my wallet and replace my trusty Oculus Rift PCVR headset at home with a Valve Index. (My final link to Meta was cut in August 2022, when I replaced my work VR headset, a second Oculus Rift, with an HTC Vive Pro 2.) This means that I am not on any of Meta’s social media: no Facebook, no Instagram, no Whatsapp. I shut down my Facebook account a couple of years ago, asking the company to delete all the personal data it had collected on me. I am done.
So, when Elon Musk announced earlier this year that he was going to take over Twitter, I already had some experience in cutting social media platforms out of my life. I responded by setting up an account on Mastodon, which I talk about here, here, and here.
Mastodon is a federated, FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) microblogging app, quite similar to Twitter, but it is decentralized, and not subject to the capricious whims of billionaires! It’s free, but I choose to support it financially through Patreon. If you are curious and you want to kick the tires yourself on Mastodon, start here. You can also watch this two-minute YouTube introduction video:
I unfollowed 90% of the people I was following on Twitter, sending messages to most of them that I was moving to Mastodon, and inviting them to join me. Of course, most didn’t. I get it; change is hard.
So, while I was now posting to my Twitter feed automatically via my blog and via my new Mastodon account, I still found myself having to sign in to Twitter to follow certain people. I grew weary of dealing with Twitter’s algorithmic feed, with its pernicious advertising, and its suggested posts and topics, and its trending hashtags (usually an echo chamber for whatever the latest outrage happens to be). I looked for a solution.
I found it via the recommendation of someone I follow on Mastodon, named Per Axbom. who had posted a link to a blogpost he had written, titled Why I left algorithm-based social media and what happened next. I read about the process Per took to free himself from algorithmically-driven social media and take control over his own newsfeed, and one of the tools he talked about was Feedbin.
Feedbin is a newsreader with a website and associated mobile apps (to set up an account costs US$5 per month or US$50 per year), but it’s more than just that! In addition to following RSS newsfeeds, you can also use it to follow people on Twitter, as well as your favourite YouTube channels. In addition, it gives you a special email address to be used in subscribing to your newsletters, so that they feed into Feedbin, too. You can also use it to follow podcasts. I’ve been using it for a month, and it’s great!
Here are some of the features:
Twitter: Stop mindlessly scrolling through tweets. Feedbin fully unpacks media-rich tweets. If a tweet links to an article, Feedbin will attempt to load the full article and display it alongside the tweet.
YouTube: Follow your favorite creators, with channels and playlists. There’s no algorithm or confusion about what you have already watched, just the videos from your favorite creators in chronological order.
Newsletters: Get newsletters out of your inbox and into Feedbin. Every pro account gets a unique email address to subscribe to and follow newsletters.
Updated Articles: Articles are updated whenever the original changes, so you don’t miss any important changes. You can even see the differences to know what changed.
Full Text: Feedbin can extract the full content of an article for feeds that only offer partial-content. This way you can keep reading without leaving.
Search: Feedbin supports a powerful and expressive search syntax to find exactly what you’re looking for. Save frequent searches to always have the results a click away.
So now I only post to my Twitter account via Mastodon, and I only read tweets from people I follow via Feedbin. This means that I spend next to zero time actually on Twitter—no advertising, no trending hashtags, no outrage machine! My Twitter feed on Feedbin also pulls up any items retweeted by people I follow, and in many cases, any linked articles in the tweets will have their full text loaded, saving me a click. It’s not the same as quitting Twitter entirely, but until more people come to their senses (and when/if Elon Musk drives Twitter into the ground), it’s a fair compromise.
As for YouTube, I can finally browse through only the channels I follow, without YouTube’s irritating suggestions for what it thinks I want to watch next. (And suggestions of music mixes based on my YouTube Music listening habits.) And no advertising unless, of course, the videomaker has a sponsorship in the video! I may never visit the YouTube website, or use the YouTube mobile apps, again. I should have done this years ago, folks.
Feedbin is the greatest thing since sliced bread, in my opinion, and well worth the subscription in alleviating the aggravation of having to deal with Twitter and YouTube algorithms! And, if Elon Musk goes through with his plans to lay off 75% of Twitter’s staff and the platform becomes overrun with toxic content and spam, I already have one foot firmly planted in Mastodon, and between it and Feedbin, I barely have to interact with Twitter at all, aside from keeping my account there.
Have you joined the RyanSchultz.com Discord yet? You’re invited to be a part of this cross-worlds discussion group, with 685 people participating from every social VR platform and virtual world! We discuss, debate and argue about the ever-evolving metaverse and all the companies building it. You’re welcome to come join us! More details here.
My sole remaining connection to Meta (formerly known as Facebook) is the now-somewhat-antiquated Oculus Rift headset attached to my work computer at the University of Manitoba Libraries, where I work as a science librarian. I do plan to replace it with an HTC Vive Pro 2 kit sometime later this year, the same model I specified in my proposal for a virtual reality lab for the Libraries, a task which took up a significant chunk of my spring.
A bit of background: Librarians at the U of M are members of the faculty union, and have a right and an obligation to pursue research, and I purchased the Oculus Rift to work on a social VR project which I regretfully had to suspend, due to it being wildly overambitious (more details here). Then, the pandemic happened and a monkey wrench got thrown into everything, and I have yet to determine the future direction of my social VR research. (My work on this blog is considered part of my research! Among those tasks I have on my to-do list is the reorganization and updating of my ever-popular list of metaverse platforms, as well as my spreadsheet of social VR platforms.)
Anyway, I bought (or rather, the University bought for me) the Oculus Rift before Meta/Facebook changed the rules two years ago, and insisted that all Oculus/Meta VR hardware users had to set up accounts on the Facebook social network in order to use their devices. That move was unpopular, especially among the VR community, and many complained (including myself, vociferously, in several editorials such as this and this), but to no avail. This corporate decision was the last straw for me, and I publicly declared a personal boycott, from that point on, of Meta hardware and software. (Hence my plan to upgrade my work Rift with a Vive Pro 2.)
When I set up my Rift, all I needed to do is set up a (separate) Oculus account. While Facebook/Meta kept prompting me to link my (non-existent) Facebook account to my Oculus account, by that time I had already fully departed from the social media platform.
Recently, I received the following email from Meta, which I present in full:
•A Facebook account is no longer required to use Meta VR devices. Instead, you can update your Oculus account to a Meta account, which lets you log into your VR devices and view and manage your purchased apps in one place. You can set up a Meta account using your email address or Facebook account, and as part of the process we’ll migrate your existing VR information (including apps, achievements, and friends) to this account.
•If you don’t want to set up a Meta account right now, you can continue using your Oculus account until January 1, 2023. After this date a Meta account will be required to continue using your Meta VR devices.
•End date for Oculus account support: We also added a statement as a reminder that support for Oculus accounts will end on January 1, 2023 and you will need to set up a Meta account to continue using our VR devices thereafter.
We’ll notify you when the Meta account is available so you have more choices over how you express yourself in VR. To learn more about these updates please visit our blog post.
The Meta Team
“More choices over how you express yourself in VR” (insert vomit emoji)
Meta Quest’s Facebook account requirement to be replaced with Meta Account, which isn’t a social media account, but will also REQUIRE Meta Horizon profile (is a social media account) w a Follower model (can be set to private) & setting options of Public, Friends/Family, or “Solo”.
More information on this new Horizon World Profile can (oddly) be found on the Oculus blog, because the Oculus Profile Friends model will be deprecated & replaced by Horizon World Profile with Instagram Follow model, & will also be available on the web (?) https://www.oculus.com/blog/meta-accounts/
Meta making its first moves to manage identity in the metaverse: “Your Meta Horizon profile is your social profile in VR and other surfaces, like the web” includes unique profile username, displayed profile name, and “your profile photo, avatar, and more.”
Meta headsets will no longer require a Facebook account from next month.
In August Meta will “begin rolling out” Meta accounts, which can be used to set up Meta headsets. You’ll still be able to link your Facebook account to your Meta account to message and call Facebook friends from inside VR, but this is no longer required.
If your Facebook is currently linked to your Quest, you can choose to unlink it when you set up your Meta account.
Meta has different deadlines for when VR users will need to create a Meta account, and they depend on how people currently sign in to their VR devices. If you’re a new VR device user or previously merged your Oculus account with your Facebook account, you’ll be prompted in August to create a Meta account and Meta Horizon profile. People who previously merged their Oculus accounts with their Facebook accounts will be able to unlink them as well…
Meta will ask for your name, email address, phone number, payment information and date of birth for age verification when you create this new type of account. Meta says this information will be private and that users will be able to create multiple Meta accounts.
It’s hard to definitively answer this question. First, the new account system hasn’t gone live, so we can’t test one crucial aspect of the change. According to Meta, anyone who switched from an Oculus account to a Facebook-tied identity will be able to decouple all Facebook identity information while creating a new Meta Account starting in August.
We want to see what this update looks like: how software-purchase transfers will work, what notices may appear on affected Facebook accounts after the transfer, and how aggressive the company will be about asking Quest users if they’re really sure they want to sever Facebook from their headset experience. (Meta has already indicated that it will let users attach Facebook and Instagram credentials if they want.) Facebook representatives have not answered our questions about these concerns as of press time.
Well, I think this all comes down to one word: TRUST.
And frankly, Meta/Facebook has proven, time and time again, that they cannot be trusted. Past behaviour, unfortunately, is often an excellent predictor of future behaviour. This applies to corporations as well as people.
Their decision to force a Facebook linkage to their then-Oculus VR hardware was ill-advised and poorly-received. I chatted via the RyanSchultz.com Discord with my friend Theanine, who had first alerted me to this news. He said, “Yup, I don’t know anyone who thought the FB requirement was a good move. It’s like they never bothered to get user feedback first.”
Here’s another snippet of our conversation (shared with permission):
Ryan: One thing I will be asking is: well, just HOW different will a Meta account be from the Facebook requirement?
Theanine: That’s the question. There’s people criticizing the move, saying that it changes nothing, because the potential for datamining is still there.
And you can bet your bottom dollar that Meta is going to find any way they can to wring every penny from its users, collecting all the information that it can to sell to advertisers—whether or not you choose to link your accounts on the Facebook or Instagram social networks.
Backtracking on the Facebook requirement might look good, but the fact remains that Meta, still, has an anti-competitive stranglehold on the wireless VR headset market with its Meta Quest 2 product. (And it certainly doesn’t help that, at the moment, its nearest competitor, the Pico G2 4K, is owned by TikTok’s corporate parent, the Chinese company ByteDance. I’m still holding out hope for the LYNX project in France, which has had a successful Kickstarter campaign.)
Meta is going to use every tool and tactic at their disposal (including the billions of dollars of advertising revenue the company earns) in order to maintain that market dominance—and part of that dominance includes the strip-mining of your personal data, regardless of how you connect to their products and services.
So yes, I am wary of this move. While I applaud Meta’s removal of the Facebook requirement, like Kent Bye and Sam Machkovech, I want to see the details. At the moment, this is just spin by some handsomely-compensated public relations executives.
So my personal boycott of Meta hardware and software will continue, except for my work Rift, which I will be replacing this year. Once that is done, I will have burnt my last bridge with Meta, and believe me, it’s going to take more that slapping a fresh coat of paint on my soon-to-be-deleted Oculus account to win me back.
Thank you to Theanine for the heads up on this story, for giving me permission to quote him, and for providing many of the news media links I referred to in this blogpost!