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.
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!
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.
“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.”
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!
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.