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

Today, I took the final step…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More concerning to me is that, at some point, I may be forced to get an account on the Facebook social network to use apps on my Oculus VR hardware. In fact, this has already happened with the events app Oculus Venues, which I recently discovered requires you to have an account on the Facebook social network to access.

Sorry, but after all the Facebook privacy scandals of the past couple of years, that’s a big, fat “Nope!” from me. I asked Facebook to delete its 13 years of user data on me, and I quit the social network in protest as my New Year’s resolution last December, and I am never coming back. And I am quite sure that many of Facebook’s original users feel exactly the same way, scaling back on their use of the platform or, like me, opting out completely. I regret I ever started using Facebook thirteen years ago, and that experience will inform my use (and avoidance) of other social networks in the future.

Yes, I do know that I have to have an Oculus account to be able to use my Oculus Rift and Oculus Quest VR headsets, and that Facebook is collecting data on that. I also know that the Facebook social network probably has a “shadow account” on me based on things such as images uploaded to the social network and tagged with my name by friends and family, etc., but I am going to assume that Facebook has indeed done what I have asked and removed my data from their social network. Frankly, there is no way for me to actually verify this, as consumers in Canada and the U.S. have zero rights over the data companies like Facebook collects about them, as was vividly brought to life by Dr. David Carroll, whose dogged search for answers to how his personal data was misused in the Cambridge Analytica scandal played a focal role in the Netflix documentary The Great Hack (which I highly recommend you watch).

We’ve already seen how social networks such as Facebook have contributed negatively to society by contributing to the polarization and radicalization of people’s political opinions, and giving a platform to groups such as white supremacists and anti-vaxersThe Great Hack details how Cambridge Analytica used Facebook data without user knowledge or consent to swing the most recent U.S. election in Donald Trump’s favour, and look at the f***ing mess the world is in now just because of that one single, pivotal event.

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

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

Freedom from Facebook!

Free from Facebook, at last! It feels great.

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

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


App Privacy

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

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

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

Data Linked to You

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

Third-Party Advertising

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

Developer’s Advertising or Marketing

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

Analytics

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

Product Personalization

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

App Functionality

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

Other Purposes

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

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

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

Editorial: Preparing to Move from Oculus Rift to Valve Index (and Why the Oculus Quest Continues to Seduce Me, Despite Myself)

My well-worn Oculus Rift (left) and my yet-to-be-unpacked Valve Index VR kit (large box)

Today, I began preparing for the removal of my Oculus Rift VR headset by uninstalling all my apps in Oculus Home. (Fortunately, I didn’t spend a lot of money on games and apps in the Oculus Store over the past four years. My interest lies more with social VR platforms, which tend to be free to install, as opposed to VR games.)

I won’t actually remove the hardware until tomorrow, after which I will uninstall the Oculus software from my personal computer. Hopefully, by this time tomorrow, I will have broken that shiny multi-coloured seal on the large black box containing my brand new Valve Index VR kit, and gotten it all set up and working properly.

As part of my housecleaning today, I also recharged and updated my Oculus Quest (the original version 1, not the Quest 2). I put it on, fully intending to uninstall all the apps I had installed on it, and prepare it for shipping to my sister-in-law in Alberta…

…and damn if the Oculus Quest technology didn’t seduce me again, a full eight months after I had last picked it up! (The space in my bedroom which I had cleared for it is currently piled high with pandemic preps.) I found myself installing and testing out the controller-free option, where the Quest just tracks your hands in space, and I found that it was great fun! Which led to me playing with a few of the installed apps…and, well, a few hours later, there I was, back in love with the magic of it all. Say what you will about Facebook, but this is a awesome little device!

Which brings me to the following uncomfortable truth: while it will be relatively easy to replace my well-worn, much-loved Oculus Rift with the Valve Index, it will not be so easy to replace my wireless Oculus Quest VR headset—at least, not anytime soon. Perhaps, in a year or two, the marketplace will throw up a competitor or two, but for now, the Quest and Quest 2 are simply in a league of their own.

And that uncomfortable truth leads to an equally uncomfortable decision: do I, on point of principle, continue with my avowed, personal boycott of all things Facebook and Oculus, and give up my Quest? Or do I hold on to it until a non-Facebook alternative comes along, knowing that all the while, I am having my personal data while using the device harvested, strip-mined, and sold to the highest bidder by Mark Zuckerberg and company? It is an ethical dilemma.

I do have a two-year window in which I will not be forced to set up an account on the Facebook social network in order to use my Oculus Quest (an option which the people who purchased Quest 2 VR headsets this year do not have). And I also know that a lot can happen in two years…

But it looks as though (for now), my sister-in-law will not be receiving my Oculus Quest, just yet.

Damn you, Mark Zuckerberg! I have been seduced by the technology, yet again…

My Journey from Oculus Rift to Valve Index: Buh-Bye, Facebook!

My journey from Oculus Rift to Valve Index started on August 18th, 2020 when I first placed my order for a complete Valve Index VR kit:

Today, I put my money where my mouth is. I went and placed an online order for the complete Valve Index VR Kit. I am told that it will take eight or more weeks to get to me, because of coronavirus-related delays in production. That’s fine. I can wait. And I’m not going anywhere.

I will be boycotting Facebook hardware and software from this point forward. It’s time for me to kick the Facebook habit, once and for all.

Well, after waiting almost three months (due to manufacturing and shipping delays caused by the pandemic), I was able to confirm the purchase of the Valve Index Kit on my credit card today, and now the shipping process begins! I am so excited!

This is not going to be cheap. The total cost, including import fees, comes to CDN$1,477 (which, according to today’s exchange rates, works out to about US$1,131).

It’s expensive, but I can afford it, and I am leaving Facebook (and Oculus) behind for good. My trusty Oculus Rift has served me well for almost four years now, through many memorable adventures and experiences, and I have certainly gotten my money’s worth from it, but I absolutely refuse to set up a new Facebook account in order to use it. (I won’t sell it, because the headset is so worn; I’ll just box it up and keep it in case anything goes wrong with the Valve Index.)

As for my original version Oculus Quest, I must confess that I haven’t touched it in at least eight months. The empty space I had cleared in my bedroom in order to use it is currently piled high with rice, canned soup and beans, Clorox wipes, toilet paper, face masks, surgical gloves, and various other pandemic preparations. (I have already decided to donate my Quest to my sister-in-law’s workplace, where she is part of a team of people who work with developmentally challenged adults. They can put it to good use. I still need to Google to find out exactly how best to wipe all my personal account information and purchased apps off my Quest before I mail it to her.)

The good news is that I haven’t spent a lot of money on games on the Oculus Store, for either my Rift or my Quest (most of what I do in VR is social VR, almost all of which is free to download), so I won’t lose much money there. And, of course, any purchases I made on social VR platforms like Sansar is tied to my Sansar account, and not to Facebook/Oculus. From now on, I will be dealing either with Steam, or downloading software directly from the company’s website.

Buh-bye, Facebook/Oculus! Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on your way out. I am going to enjoy uninstalling the Oculus software from my personal computer.

I just paid almost $1,500 just to be able to say this: fuck you, Mark Zuckerberg.

And, once my new Valve Index arrives, I have decided to completely redecorate my living room to convert it into a room-scale VR space. This means I have to throw out some furniture, including my ancient, ratty old sofa and busted, cathode-ray-tube TV set (which died on me at the start of the pandemic). I have zero plans to purchase a new television set; I never watch broadcast TV anymore, and I do not miss it. I can get all the video content I need from streaming services like Netflix.

I currently have four large bookshelves in my living room loaded with books I no longer read or want, so I will be taking them to the nearest dumpster (I would have donated them to the Children’s Hospital Book Market, but that event has been cancelled and they are asking people not to drop off books at local fire halls.) As a librarian, I am really rather surprised at just how easily I can part with paper books these days; I used to be a book packrat who scoured used book sales like the Children’s Hospital Book Market. I also practiced a lot of what the Japanese call tsundoku: buying books but never getting around to reading them!

I will be creating a new category on my blog, called Valve Index (this blogpost will be the first one put into that category). Wish me luck as I embark on a new adventure!

The Valve Index kit I ordered

Editorial: Are Social VR Platforms Dependent Upon High-End PCVR Doomed?

Today’s Melatopia Festival in Sansar: Less than 45 Avatars Total?

This afternoon, I paid a visit to Sansar to attend the virtual version of the Melatopia South Asian festival. I had a chance to catch up with some old friends and listen to some great music. Sansar is still (to my mind) the most beautiful virtual world, with a vibrant marketplace (44,582 items and counting) providing endless avatar customization options (there was even a mini velociraptor avatar running around amidst the crowd at the concert stage!).

But all the while, I had this nagging little voice in the back of my head, asking: Where is everybody?

To the best of my knowledge (and Wookey may correct me if I am mistaken), the Melatopia event never went above a single instance, and there were never more than 45 avatars total present at the festival (and most of the time that I was there, the figure from the Codex was in the low-to-middle thirties). (UPDATE: There was briefly one time in the afternoon where the festival hit a high if 51 avatars, spawning a second instance.)

Even granted that most people would be watching the show via Twitch, Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube, I find that to be a shockingly, abysmally low attendance figure, especially compared to the multitudes that would have attended the real-life version of this festival, were it not for the coronavirus pandemic.

Frankly, this blogger has long ago given up trying to chastise Wookey for their puzzling lack of promotion of events on the Sansar platform. There’s only so many times I can write the same editorial: YOU NEED TO PAY FOR PROMOTION. YOU CANNOT EXPECT PEOPLE TO COME TO SANSAR IF YOU DO NOT PROMOTE THE PLATFORM. But my pleas (and those of many other observers) seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Whatever Wookey is doing to promote Sansar, it’s clearly not enough.

But it does raise a bigger question that I have only addressed in passing in earlier editorials discussing and dissecting the demise of the old High Fidelity and the near-death experience and resurrection of Sansar. And that question is: was it a mistake to build social VR platforms that would only run on tethered, high-end virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive, and the Valve Index? The collective term I and many other people use when talking about these VR headsets, all of which require a high-end Windows gaming computer with a powerful graphics card to run, is PCVR.

Let’s face facts: both now and for the foreseeable future, the clear VR headset of choice by consumers will be the wireless, standalone Oculus Quest, especially now that Facebook has released the newer, cheaper Oculus Quest 2. And Facebook will stop selling its Oculus Rift S tethered, PCVR headset (the successor to the original Oculus Rift) this coming spring. Business Insider reported:

“We’re going to focus on standalone VR headsets moving forward,” the company said in a blog post on Wednesday. “We’ll no longer pursue PC-only hardware, with sales of Rift S ending in 2021.”

The Rift line of headsets required a powerful gaming PC to power virtual reality experiences. The headset connected to the PC with a set of wires, but the latest Oculus Quest headsets are able to replicate this experience with a single detachable USB cable in addition to operating without a dedicated PC.

As such, Facebook isn’t outright killing its PC-driven virtual reality efforts. It will continue supporting higher-end, PC-powered virtual reality on the Quest line of headsets. 

“We’ve seen significant growth in PC VR via Oculus Link,” the blog post said, “and the Rift Platform will continue to grow while offering high-end PC VR experiences like ‘Lone Echo II’ and ‘Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond’ well into the future.”

Two years ago, TechCrunch reported on the disagreements within Facebook over the company’s decision to focus on standalone as opposed to high-end, tethered headsets, saying that Brendan Iribe, the co-founder and former CEO of Oculus, was “leaving Facebook  following some internal shake-ups in the company’s virtual reality arm last week that saw the cancellation of the company’s next generation ‘Rift 2’ PC-powered virtual reality headset, which he had been leading development of”.

If Facebook is leaving the high-end PCVR market, what does that mean for the future of social VR platforms which either do not run on the Quest, like Sansar, or do not run at their full technical capacity, like VRChat? (I wrote about my earlier experiences running VRChat on my Oculus Quest here. Although I’m sure the situation has improved somewhat since then, the fact remains that you still need PCVR to really experience everything that VRChat has to offer.) Are those platforms that run best (or only) on PCVR doomed?

No. So relax. (Yeah, all right, I admit that was a click-bait blogpost title. Sue me.)

While the market for high-end PCVR might mature more slowly than that of wireless VR headsets (and definitely more slowly than most overconfident observers had originally predicted), eventually it will come. Devices may come and go in popularity, but the overall trend is clear: ever more data being pushed to your headset, creating ever more detailed environments. Eventually, that screen door effect that can sometimes make it difficult to read text in a VR headset will vanish. Visual fidelity will only improve from here on in. Consumers and businesses will demand it, and they will buy it. It’s inevitable.

While we do not yet know what future headsets various tech companies have on their drawing boards, we can be assured that other companies will definitely step into the PCVR market while Facebook is stepping out, and up the VR/AR/XR game (many eyes are watching to see what Apple will do, for example). As I like to say, a rising tide lifts all boats. I believe that many people who get their first taste of VR from an Oculus Quest will no doubt graduate to more powerful, tethered devices. (Even Facebook may decide to change their minds at some point in the future, particularly if they should see any potential competitors do well.)

I myself have already placed my order for a Valve Index kit to replace my trusty, four-year-old Oculus Rift, as part of my personal boycott of Facebook/Oculus products and services (more info here). I have heard through the grapevine that they are selling well since Facebook’s decision to force Oculus device users to get Facebook accounts, which is not sitting well with many early VR adopters at all.

And I very much look forward to visiting future virtual festivals in Sansar in my shiny new Valve Index!