UPDATED! The Facebookening of Oculus: Taking a Look at the Updated Oculus Privacy Policy and the New Oculus Supplemental Data Policy (Part 3 of 3)

Housekeeping Notice: This is the third and final part of a three-part series. Part 1 can be found here, and Part 2 can be found here.

UPDATE Oct. 14th, 2020: Well, that didn’t take very long! The first reports of Facebook bricking Oculus VR headsets have already begun to come out, only on the second day of the Quest 2’s release. More details on these cases are at the very end of this blogpost.

This manipulated image of the new Facebook Reality Labs logo is courtesy of the insanely talented and creative LokiEliot; the eye is actually not part of the FRL logo pyramid, but as several commentators on Twitter have remarked, it may as well be there.

Today is the first day of shipping for the new Oculus Quest 2 standalone VR headset, which has received glowing reviews from many quarters. Scott Stein of C|Net reports:

There’s a pair of magic goggles I’ve gone back to again and again over the last two years, opening up worlds of games, theater, conversations, art and experiences that are tough to even describe. The Oculus Quest 2 is an improved, less expensive sequel to the Oculus Quest, a self-contained VR game console that was my absolute favorite thing in 2019. This year it’s already been my portable holodeck, my little magic fitness room, my escape space.

Over the last month, I’ve used the Quest 2 for hours, sometimes an hour straight or more at a time. It keeps impressing me, and the fit and comfort have actually improved. The more compact head strap feels like it’s broken in a bit, and the eye padding now feels less restrictive. I feel like I’ve found a sweet spot for adjusting it to my face. And the controllers still haven’t needed new batteries in over a month of use.

However, he adds:

The Quest 2 requires you to connect or merge with a Facebook account, even if you’re a long-standing Oculus user. Facebook’s policies for the Oculus VR have changed, requiring a Facebook login which wasn’t necessary before. Existing Oculus ID owners still have to merge accounts immediately when using the Quest 2. Facebook’s social media ambitions are clearly aligned where VR and AR are heading, and guess what? The Oculus Quest 2 is a Facebook product. This isn’t surprising to me, but it’s something to consider if you want a VR headset that’s more open and flexible, or doesn’t live under Facebook’s umbrella.

That’s concerning in the longer-range scope of how Facebook handles data on its VR headset, but in the short term it doesn’t affect much at all. The Quest 2 is a game console, for the most part, and it’s a fantastic one. It might even be my second-favorite game console right now next to the Nintendo Switch.

Today, in looking at the new Oculus Data Policy (which was updated on Oct. 11th, 2020), I will be relying heavily on the work done by Kent Bye, who used an automated version comparison tool to compare the old and new policy documents, and has outlined his thoughts and impressions in this series of tweets posted shortly after the update on Oct. 11th. Kent was also able to ask some follow-up questions of Facebook, and he shared a second series of those questions and their answers today, on Oct. 13th.

I want to thank Kent Bye for taking the time and effort to read through the fine print of multiple Facebook/Oculus policy documents, and running a comparison checker on them against previous versions, to highlight what was new. The overwhelming majority of people, of course, would not go to this length, but I wanted to highlight here some of the things he discovered.

Part 3: The Updated Oculus Privacy Policy, the Facebook Data Policy, and the Oculus Supplemental Data Policy

If you click on “Oculus Terms of Service” link in the email announcement I received a couple of weeks ago, you are taken to yet another Oculus page with the imposing heading of LEGAL DOCUMENTS:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Legal-Documents-2-1024x673.png

As I said up top, this document was updated only a couple of days before the first Oculus Quest 2 units started shipping to consumers.

If you are the owner of an existing Oculus VR device (Rift or Rift S, the original Quest, or Go), and choose to merge your Oculus and Facebook accounts, or if you purchase a Quest 2, you must abode by the Facebook Data Policy and the Oculus Supplemental Data Policy. If you choose to use an Oculus account (but not a Facebook account) to access Oculus Products, you will be covered by the Oculus Privacy Policy (also updated on Oct. 11th, 2020). Confusing? Yes it is. You have to visit multiple documents to figure out what’s happening here.

Under “How do we use this information?”, the Oculus Supplemental Data Policy states:

We use information we collect when you use Oculus Products for the purposes described in the Facebook Data Policy under “How do we use this information?”, including to provide, personalise and improve the Facebook Products (including seamless integration between the Facebook Products); to provide measurement, analytics and other business services (including ads); to promote safety, integrity and security; to communicate with you; and to research and innovate for social good.

Upon reading the phrase “innovate for social good”. I tweeted incredulously to Kent:

“Research and innovate for social good”?!?? From a company whose flagship product is a toxic dumpster fire of misinformation, disinformation, and conspiracy theories, and who strip-mines your personal data and sells it to corporations and campaigns (remember Cambridge Analytica?)

To which he in turn replied:

“Research & innovate for social good” is a clause allowing them to do academic research on a whole range of topics. It’s language that’s a carry-over from their Facebook Policy, which provides a bit more context. The social harms get into all of the many unintended consequences.

One thing that new Supplemental Oculus Terms of Service makes very clear is that you, the purchaser, are responsible for any breaches of the ToS by anybody who uses your headset. Kent says:

My take: You could lose your Facebook account if you let someone use your Oculus headset & they violate the ToS.

Kent asked Facebook, “Can I use multiple Facebook accounts on the same device?” and the answer back from Facebook was:

Not right now, but we plan to introduce the ability for multiple users to log into the same device using their own Facebook account, so that people can easily share their headset with friends and family while keeping their information separate.

To which I ask: Why the hell didn’t Facebook take care of this before shipping the Oculus Quest 2? The Quest 2 is being marketed as a single-user device tied to a single account on the Facebook social network, at a time when the majority of VR devices are shared between multiple people. Why did Facebook not take this into account? Were they in too much of a hurry to tackle this problem before launch?

I can think of numerous examples where different users (such as multiple children of different ages within the same family) will be using a single VR device. For example, I am donating my original Quest to my sister-in-law’s workplace, where she is part of a team of people who works with developmentally challenged adults. Even worse, if any one of those people breaks the Terms of Service, they could then lose access to their device and all the content purchased for it.

Another new thing in the Terms of Service is Facebook has “permission to use your name, profile picture, and information about your actions with ads and sponsored content.” When Kent asked Facebook what was meant by “your name”, the response was it could refer either to your Oculus username of your real name.

All updated versions of the Oculus Terms of Service will now use the Facebook Community Standards, the Oculus Conduct in VR policy, and the Oculus Platform Abuse Policy. A transgression in the Facebook social network will impact on your use of Oculus devices, and vice versa; all data is shared among all Facebook companies.

In the Supplemental Oculus Terms of Service, in a section titled Account Suspension, it states:

In addition to what is stated in Section 4.2 of the Facebook Terms of Service, your access to or use of Oculus Products may be suspended or disabled, and you may lose access to, or the use of part or all of, the services offered by Facebook or third parties through Oculus Products, if (acting reasonably): (1) we determine that you have violated or breached the Terms, Community Standards (also known as the Facebook Rules), Conduct in VR Policy, Oculus Platform Abuse Policy or other terms and policies that apply to your use of Oculus Products or Third-party Services; (2) we believe that your access to, or use of, Oculus Products creates a health and safety risk; or (3) Facebook suspends or disables your Facebook account. Furthermore, we may suspend or disable your access to or use of Oculus Products if you repeatedly infringe other people’s intellectual property rights or when we are required to do so for legal reasons. To the extent permitted by applicable law, Facebook and its affiliates assume no liability for such loss of access and use and will have no obligations related to such loss. If you delete or we disable your access to or use of Oculus Products, these Oculus Terms shall be terminated as an agreement between you and us…

The new ToS covers personal and non-commercial use of Oculus VR devices, referring commercial users to separate cosument, the Oculus for Business Enterprise Use Agreement:

Kent Bye reports that there is a LOT of data collection which Facebook will be collecting from Quest 2 users, and users who choose to merge their Oculus and Facebook accounts with older devices (Rift, Quest 1, and Go).

Users will have to examine both the Oculus Supplemental Data Policy under the heading “What kind of information do we collect?”, in addition to the Facebook Data Policy under the heading “What kinds of information do we collect?”.

The Facebook Data Policy states (yes, I know it’s long, but you should read the whole thing):

To provide the Facebook Products, we must process information about you. The type of information that we collect depends on how you use our Products. You can learn how to access and delete information that we collect by visiting the Facebook settings and Instagram settings.

Things that you and others do and provide:

Information and content you provide. We collect the content, communications and other information you provide when you use our Products, including when you sign up for an account, create or share content and message or communicate with others. This can include information in or about the content that you provide (e.g. metadata), such as the location of a photo or the date a file was created. It can also include what you see through features that we provide, such as our camera, so we can do things such as suggest masks and filters that you might like, or give you tips on using camera formats. Our systems automatically process content and communications that you and others provide to analyse context and what’s in them for the purposes described below. Learn more about how you can control who can see the things you share.

Networks and connections. We collect information about the people, Pages, accounts, hashtags and groups that you are connected to and how you interact with them across our Products, such as people you communicate with the most or groups that you are part of. We also collect contact information if you choose to upload, sync or import it from a device (such as an address book or call log or SMS log history), which we use for things such as helping you and others find people you may know and for the other purposes listed below.

Your usage. We collect information about how you use our Products, such as the types of content that you view or engage with, the features you use, the actions you take, the people or accounts you interact with and the time, frequency and duration of your activities. For example, we log when you’re using and have last used our Products, and what posts, videos and other content you view on our Products. We also collect information about how you use features such as our camera.

– Information about transactions made on our Products. If you use our Products for purchases or other financial transactions (such as when you make a purchase in a game or make a donation), we collect information about the purchase or transaction. This includes payment information, such as your credit or debit card number and other card information, other account and authentication information, and billing, delivery and contact details.

Things others do and information they provide about you. We also receive and analyse content, communications and information that other people provide when they use our Products. This can include information about you, such as when others share or comment on a photo of you, send a message to you or upload, sync or import your contact information.

Device information:

– As described below, we collect information from and about the computers, phones, connected TVs and other web-connected devices you use that integrate with our Products, and we combine this information across different devices that you use. For example, we use information collected about your use of our Products on your phone to better personalise the content (including ads) or features that you see when you use our Products on another device, such as your laptop or tablet, or to measure whether you took an action in response to an ad that we showed you on your phone on a different device.

Information that we obtain from these devices includes:

Device attributes: information such as the operating system, hardware and software versions, battery level, signal strength, available storage space, browser type, app and file names and types, and plugins.

Device operations: information about operations and behaviours performed on the device, such as whether a window is in the foreground or background, or mouse movements (which can help distinguish humans from bots).

Identifiers: unique identifiers, device IDs and other identifiers, such as from games, apps or accounts that you use, and Family Device IDs (or other identifiers unique to Facebook Company Products associated with the same device or account).

Device signals: Bluetooth signals, information about nearby Wi-Fi access points, beacons and mobile phone masts.

Data from device settings: information you allow us to receive through device settings that you turn on, such as access to your GPS location, camera or photos.

Network and connections: information such as the name of your mobile operator or ISP, language, time zone, mobile phone number, IP address, connection speed and, in some cases, information about other devices that are nearby or on your network, so we can do things such as help you stream a video from your phone to your TV.

Cookie data: data from cookies stored on your device, including cookie IDs and settings. Learn more about how we use cookies in the Facebook Cookies Policy and Instagram Cookies Policy.

Information from partners:

Advertisers, app developers and publishers can send us information through Facebook Business Tools that they use, including our social plugins (such as the Like button), Facebook Login, our APIs and SDKs, or the Facebook pixel. These partners provide information about your activities off Facebook – including information about your device, websites you visit, purchases you make, the ads you see and how you use their services – whether or not you have a Facebook account or are logged in to Facebook. For example, a game developer could use our API to tell us what games you play, or a business could tell us about a purchase you made in its shop. We also receive information about your online and offline actions and purchases from third-party data providers who have the rights to provide us with your information.

Partners receive your data when you visit or use their services, or through third parties that they work with. We require each of these partners to have lawful rights to collect, use and share your data before providing us with any data. Learn more about the types of partners we receive data from.

To learn more about how we use cookies in connection with Facebook Business Tools, review the Facebook Cookie Policy and Instagram Cookie Policy.

And the Oculus Supplemental Data Policy covers even more kinds of data which Facebook collects about you when you use your Oculus device, including a few things that you might not have thought about, for example, “your physical features and dimensions, such as your estimated hand size” and “information about your environment, physical movements and dimensions when you use an XR device“:

In addition to the information described in the Facebook Data Policy under “What kinds of information do we collect?”, we collect the following categories of information when you use Oculus Products:

Physical Features: We collect information about your physical features and dimensions, such as your estimated hand size when you enable hand tracking.

Content: We collect content you create using Oculus Products, such as your avatar, a picture you post, an object you sculpt or audio content you create, and information about this content, such as the date and time you created the content.

Cookies and Similar Technologies: We receive information collected in or through various technologies on Oculus Products, including cookies, pixels, local storage and similar technologies. Learn more about how we use these technologies on our websites and mobiles apps in the Oculus Cookies Policy.

Interactions: We collect information about the features you interact with on our Oculus Products. For example, we receive information about your Oculus Browser usage, such as interactions with recommended pages, which browser features you use, crash reporting data and other statistics related to your Oculus Browser. When you use our voice services, we process your voice interactions to respond to your request, provide the requested service to you and improve our voice services on Oculus. You can learn more about how we collect and use information from other features you interact with on the Oculus Products in our Oculus Privacy FAQ.

Environmental, Dimensions and Movement Data: We collect information about your environment, physical movements and dimensions when you use an XR device. For example, when you set up the Oculus Guardian system to alert you when you approach a boundary, we receive information about the playing area that you have defined; and when you enable the hand tracking feature, we collect technical information such as your estimated hand size and hand movement data to enable this feature.

Information From Third Parties: We receive information about you from third parties, including third-party apps, developers, other online content providers and marketing partners. For example, we receive information from developers about your achievements in their app and share this information with your friends on Oculus. We also collect content and information that other people provide when they use Oculus Products. This can include information about you, such as when they send us an abuse report that refers to or contains a video of you.

– Technical System Information: We collect technical system information such as crash logs which may contain your user ID, your device ID, your IP address, the local computer file path, the feature quality, the amount of time it takes to load a feature and whether you use a certain feature.

There is much, much more that Kent Bye uncovered, which I do not have the time or space to address here. Please refer to Kent’s twitter threads here (Oct. 11th) and his follow-up questions and answers here (Oct. 13th) to get the complete story.

Will any of this make any difference to the success of the Quest 2? Probably not. Most people (many of whom probably already have a Facebook account) will see a cheaper, better version of the original Quest and buy one, tacitly signing off on all these policies without reading them or understanding them. The people who know about the potential dangers and warn about them (such as Kent Bye and myself) are but a vocal minority. Most people don’t know the issues and don’t care. As one of the members of the RyanSchultz.com Discord said recently:

Facebook wants to own the Metaverse…

The question is whether you are willing to sell your data to get a cheaper VR headset. The mainstream market cares about the price more than privacy.

The Oculus Quest 2: Are you willing to let Facebook strip-mine your data for a
cheaper VR headset? Most consumers will probably say yes.

UPDATE Oct. 14th, 2020: The following was posted today to the Oculus Quest subReddit community, along with screenshots:

Got my Quest 2 today and created a new Facebook account with my real name (never had one previously) and merged my 4 year old Oculus account with it. Promptly got banned 10 minutes later and now cannot access my account or use my device.

Sent drivers license photo ID as requested by Facebook and my account now says “We have already reviewed this decision and it can’t be reversed.” upon trying to login so it looks like I’ve lost all my previous Oculus purchases and now have a new white paperweight.

Fuck Facebook & Fuck Oculus. Be warned folks.

This user’s Facebook initial signup email, the ban page they received on Facebook, and resulting Oculus support email can all be found here:

And this is not the first such report, just one that has been well documented. A commenter on this Reddit post stated:

I swear I had the exact same thing happen today.. Except I didn’t use a phone number, so 10 minutes later I was disabled, but they wanted to verify phone number, which I did.. Then they wanted a selfie video of me… Now it’s pending REVIEW!! WTF I just created an account with all 100% real info. THIS IS ILLEGAL! Buy something you can’t use!! You can buy PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo and never create an account but you can buy a game, put it in, and play it!!!! SERIOUSLY FACEBOOK IS THE MAFIA!

We can expect to see many more incidents as Facebook’s faulty automated checking systems falsely flag and ban accounts which it assumes are false. As word gets out, and the news media begin to report on these problems, it could put a small dent in Quest 2 sales (although I still predict that Facebook is going to sell a lot of Quests, regardless).

UPDATE Oct. 15th, 2020: Upload VR has reported on this problem. And the reports of users being locked out of their Oculus devices have grown so numerous that people are beginning to track them, and discuss ways of organizing in response. Rainwolf, a member of the RyanSchultz.com Discord, posted the following image, which indicates that a great many Japanese people are encountering the same problems:

This is actually happening a LOT to my Japanses VR fanatic friends, right now, who are buying the Quest 2 to get involved in VRChat, Cluster, and VirtualCast. If you check the Twitter hashtags, it’s rampant… In Japan, Facebook is used like LinkedIN, it’s there for business and networking with business. THey don’t use it for personal stuff. That’s reserved for Line and Twitter. Japan’s mobile phones have automated filters to blur the faces of people in the background of images, even.

Japan takes identity and privacy online to the next level, and many of them have multiple personas online that are used for various groups or associations, so this is hitting them really hard…Many of them are making an Oculus account (creating a Facebook account) for the first time, putting a picture of their avatar or their artwork up, and making private everything else as you would expect them to. Then they go to use their headset and are immediately locked out.

To steal a line from I Love Lucy, Facebook has some ‘splaining to do…

The Facebookening of Oculus: Taking a Look at the Frequently-Asked Questions Section to Understand What’s Going On (Part 1 of 3)

Housekeeping Note: Originally, I was going to talk about all three of:

  1. the updated Oculus Terms of Service;
  2. the updated Oculus Privacy Policy; and
  3. 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.

Later on, in parts two and three, I will be taking a look at the updated Terms of Service and Privacy Policy which Oculus users have to agree to in order to continue using their Oculus ID with their Oculus devices (a userid which is currently separate from their Facebook account, if they have one).

UPDATE Oct. 14th, 2020: Part 2 and part 3 have now been posted.

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):

On October 11th, 2020, we are updating the Oculus Terms of Service and Privacy Policy to reflect that Facebook will become responsible for the Oculus platform and your Oculus information, and to provide more detail about how your information is collected, used, and shared. One that date, you will have the choice to continue using your existing Oculus account and remain under the updated Oculus Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, or use a Facebook account on the platform and agree to new terms. Learn more.

We recommend that you review the updated Oculus Terms of Service and Oculus Privacy Policy.

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.

Notice this last point in particular. What this likely means, as already pointed out by Sam Machkovech in an August 20th, 2020 Ars Technica editorial titled Why the Facebookening of Oculus VR is bad for users, devs, competition, is:

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.)

I agree with that Sam says here: it is extremely unlikely that the older Quest and the newer Quest 2 will exist side-by-side to give users an option. And Facebook has already announced that the Oculus Rift S will end sales sometime this spring:

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.

As Sam Machkovech notes:

…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.

Question: Are you updating the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy?

Yes. Today, the platform is managed by Oculus (also known as Facebook Technologies), which has been part of Facebook since 2014. We will update our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy on October 11th, to reflect that this responsibility will be transferred to Facebook, Inc. (or Facebook Ireland Ltd. for European Region users). In practice, this means Facebook will manage all decisions around use, processing, retention and sharing of your data. This change will apply to all users.

If you choose not to merge your Oculus and Facebook accounts:

We will update the existing Oculus Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, to reflect that Facebook will be responsible for the Oculus platform.

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.

Whew! That was a lot to go through—and we still haven’t even gotten around to looking at the updated Oculus Terms of Service and Oculus Privacy Policy!

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.

Facebook Reality Labs’ new logo