Steven King is an associate professor of multimedia journalism and emerging technologies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, holding a joint appointment with the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media and the Kenan-Flagler Business School. In his work, King combines computer science concepts, human-centered design and storytelling to create new ways to present information through emerging technologies, such as virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence and other interactive media forms, such as interactive data-driven graphics.
If you ask a UNC student what their remote classroom experience has consisted of, they will likely tell you about video lectures through Zoom. But for students in Steven King’s class, they are experiencing remote learning differently — through virtual reality.
“I’m always trying to figure out a better way to teach and communicate,” King, a professor at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, said. “I know virtual reality is an immersive experience.”
King built a virtual 3D version of his classroom, which allows his students to walk around in the classroom and break out into groups.
He said he has tested out a lot of different platforms for hosting 3D classrooms. The first experience, he said, was through Mozilla Hubs. But King said his class will likely stick to AltspaceVR because of how pleased the students have been with it.
“When you’re faced with a crisis, these are times to step up and figure things up and make new discoveries,” King said. “We don’t need to limit ourselves to the tools we have. We need to develop new tools to move us forward.”
King sent Oculus Go Virtual Reality headsets to his 28 students to use at home. King and the students built their own avatars, and they are all attending class together in a virtual world as robots, panda bears, ducks and other characters. King chose the superhero Ironman as his avatar.
The emerging technologies class was tailor-made for this type of experiment, King said. Students had become familiar with the technology throughout the semester while learning about artificial intelligence and augmented reality.
To help the students prepare for class. I gave the students an assignment to be completed before the first class hosted in AltspaceVR. I asked every student to signup for an account, go through the tutorial in their home space, and to go to the InfoZone, which is a tutorial in the form of a social fair about going to events. The final step of the assignment was to send me a friend request. I also recorded a video on how to enter the room/event…
This assignment was critical to the success of the next class. I needed the students to work through any technical issues on their own and to feel confident in another social VR environment. Once I got a friend request, I added them to the group so they could see the private event…
Most students arrived early and were ready to go. I let them spend several minutes interacting and exploring the space. There was lots of personal chatting, like I would see before an in-person class, which has been absent in my Zoom class.
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.
I don’t have a lot of time today, but I wanted to write up a few more thoughts I had about yesterday’s Facebook Horizon announcement.
First: Linden Lab knew something was up. The timing of their splashy revamp of Sansar (the day before the OC6 keynote) was no accident. They wanted to get some media air time before Facebook came in and sucked all the oxygen out of the room! The new promotional video for Sansar is slick, savvy, and obviously designed to entice the curious newcomer:
The big Sansar news on Sept. 24th was the announcement of partnerships with major corporations including Sanrio, Levi’s, and Spinnin’ Records. But there was also a redo of the Sanar logo (switched from red to aqua blue), and some slick new promotional imagery designed to appeal to gamers:
I think it is probably safe to say that many other social VR platforms and virtual worlds were completely caught off guard by yesterday’s detailed announcement of Facebook Horizon, and they will need to take some time to adjust to the new reality, the “new normal”.
I am fed up. I have had enough. And I am fighting back the only way I can: by shutting down my Facebook and Instagram accounts and deleting all of the data that Facebook has gathered on me.
Well, last night I came crawling back to Facebook. But the company did indeed keep its promise: it did not offer to reconnect me with 13 years of data it had on me, which I had asked them to delete. However, Facebook still knows it’s me: many of the initial friend suggestions it made were people who I had been connected to on the previous incarnation of my account. (I politely declined all of them. I am doing things totally differently this time around.)
As it happens, I have used the same email address for both my Oculus hardware account and for my deleted-and-now-reinstated Facebook social network account. I have no idea if Facebook is going to keep those two accounts separate, or try to merge them sometime in the future. In fact, there’s still no concrete evidence to support the thesis that you have to have an account on the Facebook social network in order to use Horizon.
So now I have a shiny new empty Facebook account, but I am approaching this fully forearmed with the knowledge that Facebook will strip mine the hell out of any data I provide, as well as the knowledge that my data can (and in fact, already has been) weaponized by companies such as Cambridge Analytica and used against me.
I am willing to come back, but I am damn wary. And I have essentially locked down everything I can using Facebook’s own security and privacy settings, as well as installing and setting up the excellent F.B. (Fluff Buster) Purity web browser extension. Please note that Facebook does not like F.B. Purity, and will actively block any mention of F.B. Purity on its social network; I only learned about this tool through word of mouth, from other Facebook users. You can read more about it via the link I posted above.
Also, I have registered for the closed beta test of the new Facebook Horizon platform, which starts sometime in early 2020. The application process asked for my Oculus account information I provided when I first purchased and set up my Oculus Rift headset in January 2017, followed by the purchase and set up of my Oculus Quest in May 2019. (I have read on Reddit that Facebook will accept either a Facebook social network account or an Oculus account, but I did not see any option to enter the former, only the latter. Perhaps I missed something.)
All the short registration form asked me for was my gender (male, female, or something custom), what experience I had building content for social VR and virtual worlds (and what tools I used), and whether I lead, moderate, or administer an online community (such as Reddit, Facebook Groups, Discord, Twitch, etc.). I did tell them that I was an influential blogger who writes a blog about social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse, which gets anywhere between 600 and 6,000 views per day. (I forgot to tell them that I also have a popular Discord discussion forum associated with my blog. Oh well.)
The worst that can happen is that Facebook decides I am not worthy to enter the closed beta test, in which case I will need to examine my options. Also, Facebook may ask beta testers to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement), which is fairly common in these sorts of cases. For example, even though I was accepted into the Sansar closed alpha/beta testing back in December of 2016, I was not allowed to blog about anything I saw in-world until the open beta launch on July 31, 2019—and I also had to receive explicit permission from Linden Lab to post pictures taken before that date on my blog, as a sort of history of Sansar’s early development. We may face the same situation with Facebook Horizon. We’ll see. It’s still very early days.
First: Facebook still does not have a single social VR platform to bring together Oculus Go, Oculus Quest, and Oculus Rift users! Facebook Horizon is only intended for the Oculus Rift and the Oculus Quest. What this means for Oculus Go users is unclear.
Second, Facebook has announced that they will be shutting down both Facebook Spaces and Oculus Rooms on October 25th, 2019, presumably to free up staff who will be deployed to work on Facebook Horizon.
…we might yet see the launch of a new social VR platform backed by Facebook, after they decide to ditch the lamentable Facebook Spaces once and for all. Maybe it will be based on Oculus Rooms; maybe it will be something completely different. But despite my negative feelings about the social networking side of Facebook, they still have the hardware (Oculus), the money, and the reach to be a game-changer in social VR. (Just not with Facebook Spaces. At this point, they should just kill the project and start over. Any improvements will be like putting lipstick on a pig.)
And Oculus Rooms was only for Gear VR and the Oculus Go, which means that they will have no Facebook-branded social VR platform at all. This is, of course, an opportunity to other, third-party platforms which support Gear VR and Oculus Go, such as AltspaceVR, Rec Room, Bigscreen, and vTime XR.
Today is the opening day of Oculus Connect 6 (OC6), a two-day event at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center in sunny, warm California, and it’s all everybody who is anybody in virtual reality and augmented reality has been talking about for weeks.
Even Facebook’s CEO has been in on the game, teasing users with cryptic announcements such as this one:
What exactly could Zuckerberg be teasing here? In Ready Player One, the Oasis is an all-encompassing virtual metaverse that allows anyone to be whoever they want and do whatever they want. It’s so good that humanity basically loses itself inside the new world. We don’t think VR is quite ready for something of that scale, but this tease could be taking the first steps towards something like that.
We’ve written in the past about how confusing Facebook’s scattered social VR policy has been. Facebook Spaces appears to be all but forgotten about, Oculus Rooms never left Gear VR and Go, and Oculus Quest still doesn’t have its own social VR experience powered by Facebook.
Could we perhaps see Facebook announced a definitive social destination across Oculus Rift and Quest? … Maybe we’re just getting carried away, but it’s an exciting thought.
We’ll have to watch along with the keynote to find out.
Unfortunately, I am stuck here in the plunging autumn temperatures of Winnipeg, teaching undergraduate agriculture students how to use the library effectively to complete their assigments. So, alas, I am going to have to rely on second-hand accounts of what’s going on at OC6. If I am lucky, I might be able to catch the livestreams of Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote address and other events on the OculusConnect.com website, while I am multi-tasking (here are more details on how to watch from CNET). Of course, it’s not the same thing as actually being there.