Facebook is…soliciting proposals to help accelerate research in social VR with the hope of fostering open, welcoming, and safer virtual worlds. There are fairly robust research fields in traditional 2D social platforms, and we hope to drive similar progress in the fields of 3D and virtual reality social interaction. We anticipate awarding a total of five awards of up to $75,000 USD each. Payment will be made to the proposer’s host university in the form of a grant awarded by a third-party donor-advised fund, per the Terms & Conditions set forth below.
We strongly encourage researchers from diverse backgrounds and of diverse abilities to apply.
Facebook also provides three topics that they are especially interested in, but also state that “Researchers are encouraged to propose additional topics relevant to the theme of social interactions and social user experiences in VR environments.” The three areas are:
1. How does social VR contribute to social connection?
As with any form of interactive platform, virtual reality can help us better understand user behaviors and psychology. Facebook is interested in learning how immersive 3D VR experiences can help us better understand topics related to social connection, interaction and interpersonal relationships (virtual and real).
Social networks and groups are fundamental forums for interaction on these platforms. We are interested in how groups and communities arise, operate, and facilitate interaction in social VR environments.
2. What lessons in social interaction, social psychology and experience have we learned from 2D social platforms that apply to 3D immersive environments?
Despite immersive social platforms being relatively new to society, there are countless lessons that we can take from research on 2D social platforms that have been in existence for decades.Facebook is interested in discovering how research areas like social interaction, social anxiety and online harassment from a 2D lens can be applied to further understand experiences in 3D social VR environments.
3. How can we ensure user safety for teens in social VR environments?
Facebook is interested in how immersive social VR experiences affect teens (ages 13-18) in particular. Further, Facebook seeks to understand how social VR platforms can mitigate threats such as online addiction, online harassment, cyberbullying, and other safety concerns for younger users.
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).
Note that if you do elect to merge your Oculus and Facebook accounts, you will be asked to sign off on different documents than these. Since I have deleted my Facebook account in protest of this move, I do not fall into this category of user. Note also that new Oculus device users (including the Oculus Quest 2) will required to set up Facebook accounts in order to use their headsets:
First, a few stats: I ran the ToS text itself (without the title and the headings on the left-hand side) through a word counter program called WordCounter, where it came in at 8.978 words arranged in 326 sentences, with an average sentence length of 28 words. Lots and lots of long-winded legal sentences to parse here! This means that it would take a little over half an hour to read for the average reader. (Good thing I brewed a vat of black coffee to power through this! I’m gonna need it.)
The reading level is calculated by WordCounter to be “college graduate”. Since only a third of U.S.-born Americans have a four-year college degree, it means that roughly two-thirds of Americans will likely encounter some difficulty in reading and understanding the Terms of Service (provided that they would be willing to set aside half an hour to read through the whole thing from beginning to end in the first place).
The preface reads as follows:
On 11 October 2020, we are updating the Oculus Terms of Service to reflect that Facebook, Inc. (or Facebook Ireland Limited for European Region users) will become responsible for the Oculus platform and your Oculus information. Below you can find a preview of the updated Terms of Service, and we recommend that you review them. It will be available to review in other languages soon. By continuing to use an Oculus account after 11 October 2020, you agree to the updated Oculus Terms of Service.
Right up front, in all-caps bold, is the following warning (which I cut and pasted into Microsoft Word, using the case change feature to make it more readable here):
These terms of service contain important terms and conditions that affect you and your use of the oculus products, including, unless you choose to opt out, a provision regarding binding arbitration of disputes (other than certain specified intellectual property claims and small claims) and a waiver of certain rights to jury trials and/or class actions. Please read the “Dispute Resolution” section (section 19) in its entirety…
You certify that you are of the legal age of majority in the jurisdiction in which you reside or, if you are between the ages of 13 and the legal age of majority, that you are using the Oculus products with the supervision of your parent or legal guardian who agrees to be bound by these terms of service. Make sure that you review these terms of service with your parent or guardian so that you both understand all of your rights and obligations.
Which raises an interesting question: what happens if you are younger than 13? A little later on it, the ToS states:
The Oculus Products are intended solely for users who are aged 13 years or older. Any registration for, or use of, the Oculus Products by anyone under the age of 13 years is unauthorised and unlicensed and breaches these Terms.
As far as I am aware, you have to be at least 13 years old to have a Facebook account (although I’m quite sure some children lie about their ages to set up account, just as some people use a fake name). However, I’m quite sure that the Oculus Quest 2 is going to be popular with both children and teenagers, and I can easily foresee a situation where someone under 18 buys a Quest with their own money and sets it up without any adult “supervision”. The wording suggests that the legal onus would rest with the legal guardian, which means that some parents might well be faced with a nasty surprise down the line (especially if they have sensibly forbidden their children from setting up accounts on social media).
Anyway, onwards! (Takes another gulp of rapidly-cooling black coffee, steels himself)
If you are using the Oculus Products on behalf of any entity, you represent and warrant that you are authorised to accept these Terms on such entity’s behalf and that such entity agrees to be responsible to us if you or that entity breaches these Terms.
Now, I happen to have an Oculus Rift I purchased for work, for a virtual reality research project which is currently on hold (more details here). It, and the high-end Windows PC required to use it, were purchased using University of Manitoba money and are U of M property (although the Rift is currently sitting in my messy apartment as I work from home during the pandemic, along with my office chair, keyboard, and mouse).
Am I, indeed, authorized to accept these Terms of Service on my university’s behalf? I suspect that the University lawyers would want some input in that decision; they review legal contracts for software and services all the time as a matter of course. This is a question which I will have to ask my colleague, the law librarian at the University of Manitoba, who is both a librarian and a lawyer.
Again, this is another potentially thorny legal for those businesses and educational institutions which bought Oculus Rifts, Quests, and Gos (Go’s? Goes?) for commercial and corporate use, well before the requirement to set up a Facebook account. What if your organization forbids employees from setting up Facebook accounts?
I am reminded of a recent, similar ethical and legal situation, which many public libraries who had purchased access to the popular Lynda.com educational programs for their library patrons were faced with. Lynda.com was acquired by LinkedIn, which required users to set up LinkedIn accounts in order to use it, something which many public libraries said contravened their policies. I’m actually not sure what the end result was, and so I will have to go do a little librarian research on it and report back later! More rabbit holes to go down!!
Onwards!! (Takes sip of microwaved coffee, grimaces)
People can only have meaningful interactions if they feel safe. We employ dedicated teams and develop advanced technical systems to detect misuse of our service, harmful conduct towards others, breaches and violations of our terms and policies, and situations where we may be able to help support or protect the Oculus community. If we learn of content or conduct that misuses our Oculus Products or breaches or violates our Terms and policies, we will take appropriate action, for example, by removing content, blocking access to certain features, disabling an account or contacting law enforcement agencies. We share information with other Facebook Companies (https://www.facebook.com/help/111814505650678/) when we detect misuse or harmful conduct by someone using one of our Oculus Products.
All well and good. Facebook plays judge, jury, and (if necessary) executioner; this is no different than other services. I do find it interesting that Instagram is not mentioned by name in the linked list of “Facebook Companies”, but WhatsApp is. I’m quite sure there is a much more detailed list of Facebook companies somewhere (aha, here’s one! Wikipedia to the rescue!).
To access and use certain features of the Oculus Products, you may be required to register for an account. By creating an account, you agree to: (i) provide accurate, current and complete account information; (ii) maintain the security of your password, not share your password with any other person and accept all risks of unauthorised access to your account; and (iii) promptly provide notice at https://www.facebook.com/whitehat/ if you discover or otherwise suspect any security breaches related to the Oculus Products.
Another potentially thorny legal issue: I plan to donate my original Oculus Quest to my sister-in-law’s workplace, where she is part of a team of people who work with developmentally challenged adults. It would appear that you are required to “not share your password with any other person”, which is patently absurd in such a situation, where multiple people will be using the device. I have no doubt that many people are sharing an Oculus account for a particular device, who are in similar situations.
We reserve the right, at our sole discretion and where technically feasible, to disable your access to or ability to use Oculus Products that we believe present a health and safety risk or violate our Community Standards (also known as the Facebook Rules) and Conduct in VR Policy, agreements, laws, regulations or policies. We will not incur any liability or responsibility if we choose to remove, disable or delete such access or ability to use any or all portion(s) of the Oculus Products.
Once again: Facebook is judge, jury, and executioner. You have zero say in the matter (although I’m quite sure there will be some sort of appeals process, which of course will be completely structured and controlled by Facebook).
There’s an interesting section called Virtual Items:
Your purchase of a virtual item or in-game currency within the Oculus Products is a payment for a limited, non-assignable licence to access and use such content or functionality in the Oculus Products. Virtual items (including characters and character names) or in-game currency purchased or available to you in the Oculus Products can only be used in connection with the Oculus Products where you obtained them or where they were developed by you as a result of gameplay. These items are not redeemable or subject to refund and cannot be traded outside the Oculus Products for money or other items for value. We may modify or discontinue virtual items or in-game currency at any time.
I wonder what the impact of that statement would be on some social VR platforms that currently operate on the Oculus Rift and Quest.
The Acceptable Use section states:
By accessing or using the Oculus Products, you agree that you will not: (a) access or use the Oculus Products in any manner that could interfere with, disrupt, negatively affect or inhibit anyone from fully enjoying the Oculus Products, including, but not limited to, defamatory, harassing, threatening, bigoted, hateful, vulgar, obscene, pornographic or otherwise offensive behaviour or content; (b) damage, disable, overburden or impair the functionality of the Oculus Products in any manner; (c) access or use the Oculus Products for any illegal or unauthorised purpose or engage in, encourage or promote any illegal activity, or any activity that breaches or violates these Terms, Community Standards (also known as the Facebook Rules) and Conduct in VR Policy or any other terms or policies provided in connection with the Oculus Products; (d) use or attempt to use another user’s account without authorisation from such user; (e) modify, adapt, hack or emulate the Oculus Products; (f) use any robot, spider, crawler, scraper or other automated means or interface not provided or authorised by us to access the Oculus Products or to extract data; (g) circumvent or attempt to circumvent any filtering, security measures or other features designed to protect the Oculus Products or third parties; or (h) infringe upon or violate our rights or the rights of our users or any third party.
This statement (particularly section (f) above) might cause some serious problems for security researchers, and tech reporters writing about computer security issues, who might use such methods to take a peek at exactly what data Facebook/Oculus is collecting on its users. For example 9to5Mac reported:
A new investigative report from The Wall Street Journal today looks into the controversial practice of popular third-party iOS and Android apps sending very personal user data to Facebook. In some cases, this happened immediately after an app recorded new data, even if the user wasn’t logged into Facebook or wasn’t a Facebook user at all. Notably, the report highlights that Apple and Google don’t require apps to divulge all the partners that user data is shared with.
After TheWall Street Journalreported that popular period-tracking app Flo had been secretly sharing some of its users’ most personal health data with Facebook, Flo is promising to make some changes.
Along with a number of other popular health apps, Flo used Facebook’s developer software to track users’ data in a way that could be used for advertising purposes, the report found.
If we can’t trust Facebook not to do these kinds of things now, what guarantee do we have that they won’t continue to invade our privacy in other ways, using data from our VR headsets (tracking, eye movements, etc.)? Public service journalism demands that sometimes you need to reverse engineer or use other methods to investigate security concerns, such as the case with Flo.
Our Oculus Products may include interactive features and areas where you may submit, post, upload, publish, email, send, otherwise transmit or interact with content, including, but not limited to, text, images, photos, videos, sounds, virtual reality environments or features, software and other information and materials (collectively, “User Content”). Unless otherwise agreed to, we do not claim any ownership rights in or to your User Content.
All well and good. However:
By submitting User Content through the Oculus Products, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free and fully sublicensable (i.e. we can grant this right to others) right to use, copy, display, store, adapt, publicly perform and distribute such User Content in connection with the Facebook Company Products (https://www.facebook.com/help/195227921252400/) (subject to applicable Privacy Settings [https://secure.oculus.com/my/privacy/]).
I’m quite sure that most people are not aware that, despite Oculus not owning your content, that they can do essentially whatever they want with it, anyway, if you are submitting that content through Oculus devices. News to me, and it might be unwelcome news to you, too. (Do other brands of VR headset makers do this?)
We do not endorse or guarantee the opinions, views, advice or recommendations posted or sent by users. Facebook has no responsibility or liability for User Content made available through the Oculus Products, and we have no obligation to screen, edit or monitor such content. However, we do reserve the right, and have absolute discretion, to remove, screen or edit User Content at any time and for any reason, including content that infringes intellectual property rights or otherwise breaches these Terms.
ONWARDS!!! (Props open his eyelids with toothpicks)
You will comply with all applicable export control laws of the United States and any other applicable governmental authority, including, without limitation, the US Export Administration Regulations (“Export Laws”). You will not, directly or indirectly, export, re-export or download the Oculus Products: (a) to any individual, entity or country prohibited by Export Laws, including by any US sanctions programme; (b) to anyone on the SDN List, the US Denied Persons List or Entity List or other export control lists; or (c) for any purpose prohibited by Export Laws, including nuclear, chemical or biological weapons proliferation or the development of missile technology. You further represent and warrant that no US federal agency has suspended, revoked or denied your export privileges and you are not listed on the SDN List.
I love the bit about “nuclear, chemical or biological weapons proliferation or the development of missile technology“. Talk about covering all the bases!
This next bit applies to me as a blogger:
You are granted a limited, non-exclusive right to create text links to our websites for non-commercial purposes; however, you may not use our logos or other proprietary graphics to link to our sites without our express written permission.
So basically I can’t use any Facebook/Oculus logos to link to their websites (although text links are acceptable). I wonder if all the third-party app websites that use such logo links to their Oculus Store listings are aware of this stipulation.
The rest is all disclaimers and indemnities and so forth, limitations of liability statements, etc. Under Dispute Resolution, it states:
You and Facebook agree to waive any right to a jury trial, or the right to have any Dispute resolved in any court, and instead accept the use of binding arbitration (which is the referral of a Dispute to one or more impartial persons for a final and binding determination); provided, however, that you have the right to litigate any Dispute in small claims court, if all the requirements of the small claims court, including any limitations on jurisdiction and the amount at issue in the Dispute, are satisfied…
You and Facebook agree that any Dispute is personal to you and Facebook, and that any Dispute shall only be resolved by an individual arbitration and shall not be brought as a class arbitration, a class action or any other representative proceeding.
So, no class action lawsuits! Facebook wants to pick you off, one at a time 😉
The document ends with a special section pertaining to German users and to European Union users. God help the German users! All they get is a separate document which basically replaces selected text from the original Terms of Service document, so they have to go back and forth between two legal documents to figure out what the hell is going on.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
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.
“…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.
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-vaxers. The 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.
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.
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!