UPDATED! Editorial: Facebook Announces Even Tighter Integration Between the Oculus VR Ecosystem and the Facebook Social Network

Look, I’ll be up-front and unequivocal about it: I’m no longer a fan of the Facebook social network. I left it at the end of last year as my New Year’s resolution, and I asked them to delete over 13 years’ worth of user data it had collected on me (which, as far as I know, they have done).

And I only rejoined the Facebook social network in October because the company has made it abundantly clear that you will need both an Oculus account and a Facebook account in order to take part in Facebook Horizon, Facebook’s social VR platform which is to launch in closed beta sometime in early 2020. And, as a blogger who specializes in covering all aspects of social VR, I have no choice but to play by Facebook’s rules if I want to set foot on their platform and report on it to you, my readers.

At the present moment, the only time you really need to use your Facebook account when using your Oculus VR hardware is if you want to attend an event hosted in Oculus Venues. But, in an announcement today, Facebook says:

Today, we’re excited to announce the brand-new social experience we debuted at OC6 across the Oculus Platform, powered by Facebook. We already use Facebook to bring people together in Venues, offer features like livestreaming, and provide safety tools like reporting and blocking. Now we’re using Facebook’s technology to roll out new social features in the coming days that will help people build their VR communities, while keeping them safer at scale by backing social interactions with their Facebook identity.

To make sure that people understand these changes, we’re also updating the Oculus Privacy Policy to clarify that these social features are also provided by Facebook. And we’re clarifying how Oculus data is shared with Facebook to inform ads when you log into Facebook on Oculus.

You can see these updates to the Oculus Privacy Policy here to learn more. And you can read our FAQ here for more information.

Facebook will be rolling out several new features to more tightly integrate the Facebook social network into the Oculus ecosystem:

Starting today, when you choose to log into Facebook from the Oculus Platform, you’ll be able to access new social features that make it easier for you to connect with other people, including:

Chats, so you can message your Oculus friends in or out of the headset with quick responses to hop into games together

Join your friends in VR directly from any device with links that open to where your friends are within an app, and see the most popular destinations where people are playing in VR

User-created Events, so you can organize meetups or multiplayer games with friends

Share photos, videos, and livestreaming to Facebook, allowing you to share your favorite moments to Facebook Groups from VR

Parties that any of your Oculus friends can join (previously parties were only invite-only)

Messenger friends can easily join you in VR when you send them links to join you where you’re playing

And your Oculus usage data will be fed into Facebook for advertising purposes:

As part of these changes, Facebook will now use information about your Oculus activity, like which apps you use, to help provide these new social features and more relevant content, including ads. Those recommendations could include Oculus Events you might like to attend or ads for VR apps available on the Oculus Store. These changes won’t affect third-party apps and games, and they won’t affect your on-device data.

If you choose not to log into Facebook on Oculus, we won’t share data with Facebook to allow third parties to target advertisements to you based on your use of the Oculus Platform.

So, Facebook is going to tighten the integration between the Oculus ecosystem and the Facebook social network, including sharing user data between Oculus and Facebook if you are signed into Facebook via Oculus. And going forward, it looks as though it is going to become more and more difficult to avoid signing into your Facebook account while using your Oculus hardware.

You can certainly forget any ideas you might have about creating an anonymous account to use with Facebook Horizon. Facebook clearly wants you to be signed in using your personally identifying account on the Facebook social network, linked to all the real-life information the company has on you. They also want to be able to send data between Oculus and Facebook. All the better to serve you targeted advertising, of course, which is where Facebook still makes most of its money.

You can still choose to keep your Oculus and Facebook accounts separate, of course, but you can bet that there will be further announcements in the new year intertwining the two services ever more tightly, and making it even more difficult to maintain that separation.

Cynics can say that I knew what I was getting into when I decided to purchase Oculus VR hardware in the first place; I currently own (and am quite happy with) my Oculus Rift and Oculus Quest VR headsets. But I am less than happy with today’s announcements, despite Facebook’s best attempts to make them sound like a rollout of wonderful new features.

In short, Facebook wants to gather together all its information about you into one neat, tidy little package to serve to its advertisers—including how much time you spend in what apps and games on your Oculus VR headset. If you don’t want any part of that, then you’d best look to non-Facebook sources for your VR hardware and software, like HTC and Valve.

UPDATE 7:51 p.m.: Ian Hamilton has written an excellent article on all these changes for UploadVR, which includes an extensive question-and-answer session with Facebook. I recommend you read it to get up-to-speed with what’s happening with your Facebook and Oculus accounts. Thanks, Ian!

Advertisements

UPDATED! Forbes Writer Takes a Hatchet to Facebook Horizon in a Hilariously Badly-Written Article: “Facebook, the drug we snort off the buttocks of a willing and paid for social media pit of despair…”

As could be predicted, there have been oceans of fawning press coverage of Facebook Horizon, since it was announced two days ago at OC6. So I was surprised to find a hilariously bad, savage swipe at the yet-to-be-launched social VR platform, and coming from Forbes business magazine, no less.

In an article titled Facebook’s Horizon VR Promises A New Kind Of Drug For Our Exhausted Reality, consumer tech writer Curtis Silver swandives right into the deep end of the hyperbole pool:

Facebook, the drug we snort off the buttocks of a willing and paid for social media pit of despair, has opened us up to the psychological horror of the world around us. If that’s not enough, now Facebook wants to drag us into VR with its Horizon VR project.

Quick, somebody call the Mixed Metaphor Police! I’ve heard Facebook called a lot of nasty things in my time, but comparing it to hooker off whose butt you snort cocaine is a new one! Except it’s not a hooker’s ass, it’s a pit of despair, get it? (But wouldn’t the cocaine just fall into the pit?)

But wait, there’s more!

If you’ve forgotten, amid all the political wrangling and constant stream of lukewarm fake news into your eyes, Facebook owns Oculus VR, a VR system generally focusing on immersive games and experiences. Well, now Facebook wants to really get involved, introducing Horizon VR during its Facebook’s Oculus Connect 6 developer conference, which took place at the same time we were all watching Amazon introduce a new world of surveillance smart home tech.

Horizon VR, upon first glance, appears to be some sort of leg-less Nintendo Mii meets Second Life apparatus, focusing on creating environments and interactions that appear happy and contained, but will most likely be terrible and insane. It’s intended for use on the Oculus Quest headset, which doesn’t have the computing power of PC-connected headsets. Therefore, Horizon VR is something more akin to the graphical output of a Nickelodeon cartoon rather than a reality-based world.

“Lukewarm fake news into your eyes”?!?? Oh, honey, no. Lukewarm is associated with touch, not sight. Somebody needs to get this writer a proper thesaurus. (And maybe some English lessons.)

Curtis also gets quite a few technical details wrong in this write-up. First, the social VR platform is called Facebook Horizon, not “Horizon VR”, as he keeps calling it (even in the title!). And Horizon is not just for the wireless Oculus Quest headset; it is also intended for the PC-connected Oculus Rift headset. And one of the many OC6 announcements was that soon you will be able to run Oculus Rift games on your Quest using a cable connected to your computer. In other words, there’s really nothing stopping Facebook (or anybody else, for that matter) from making more realistic-looking experiences and avatars. The limit is truly your own imagination.

Anyway, let’s proceed…the writer was comparing Facebook Horizon to a Nickelodeon cartoon…

To Facebook’s credit, that’s a smart move. Reality is certainly something we need less of. Horizon VR offers an escape from the twisted dysfunction of reality, on the surface at least. In screenshots and talking points. [sic] We all know what is going to go down in a virtual world captained by Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg. Horizon VR might appear to be a cartoonish world of fun interactions and avatars without legs, but users will surely find a way to quickly create a nightmare world that moderators will be unable to manage.

Meanwhile in the real world, the Department of Justice has joined the FTC in an antitrust investigation of Facebook. A new study from the University of Oxford has revealed that (duh) Facebook is the most common platform for spreading disinformation at a government and political level. And in response to anti-bullying and mental health groups, Facebook will begin testing hiding likes to make users feel better. Facebook is an actual hellscape.

You really want to experience that in VR? As fellow Forbes contributer [sic] Paul Armstrong puts it, “As more and more scandals hit Facebook thanks to lax privacy policies of yesteryear (they promise), this bold vision [of Horizon VR] is all well and good but it’s built on the back of something ugly and hence, it’s destined to be tainted from conception.”

Facebook is a drug. Quit Facebook. Seriously. Before it ruins you. The solution to the problems Facebook has deftly unloaded upon the populace and your personal mental health isn’t to begin ingesting your social media drug in the virtual realm, the solution here is to delete Facebook from your phone, wake up and soberly face the real world once again. Only then can you find a viable, real-world escape from the real world. Like bowling, or mini-golf.

Sweet minty Jesus. I am most certainly not a fan of the Facebook social network, in fact I think it has caused some real and serious problems in society. But what story editor okayed this snarky, badly-argued, poorly-composed, half-assed hatchet job?? I mean, it’s one thing to write a well-written, well-reasoned, technically accurate critique of a product. But this mess is none of those things.

To cite just one example, what does hiding likes on a social network have to do with anything?

The writer can’t even get the name of the product straight, let alone the technical details. And there’s a sentence fragment just kind of hanging there in mid-article: “In screenshots and talking points.” And it’s spelled contributor, dear. There’s this wonderful new invention called spellcheck, you should really look into it sometime.

But the biggest problem that I have with this story is it just rather lazily assumes that Facebook Horizon is simply going to be some hellish VR version of the Facebook social network. A social network and a social VR platform are two very different things, used by different types of people for completely different purposes. We won’t know what Facebook Horizon is like until the closed beta test early next year, but we can assume that the company has learned at least a few things about what does and doesn’t work with Facebook Spaces, Oculus Home, and Oculus Rooms. (At least, let’s hope so!)

Is there a chance Facebook Horizon will be a terrible product? Absolutely. But I think it’s just a wee bit early to deem the new social network akin to Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell. And Facebook has already announced that they will be deploying a team of human greeters and guides in an effort to model good behaviour on the platform and counteract griefers.

My God, I can’t believe I’m actually standing up for Facebook! (I must have a fever or something.)

But this article is so God-awful I just couldn’t let it go without comment. Forbes, you can do better than this sloppy, slipshod journalism.

UPDATE 6:39 p.m.: One of my Twitter followers, named Bird, shared this video with me:

And another Twitter follower, James Baicoianu, explains:

In other words, the Forbes website does many of the same evil things of which they accuse Facebook! A perfect case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Editorial: Some Random Thoughts on the Morning After the Facebook Horizon Announcement

I don’t have a lot of time today, but I wanted to write up a few more thoughts I had about yesterday’s Facebook Horizon announcement.


First: Linden Lab knew something was up. The timing of their splashy revamp of Sansar (the day before the OC6 keynote) was no accident. They wanted to get some media air time before Facebook came in and sucked all the oxygen out of the room! The new promotional video for Sansar is slick, savvy, and obviously designed to entice the curious newcomer:

The big Sansar news on Sept. 24th was the announcement of partnerships with major corporations including Sanrio, Levi’s, and Spinnin’ Records. But there was also a redo of the Sanar logo (switched from red to aqua blue), and some slick new promotional imagery designed to appeal to gamers:

Agent Primus and Agent Forma: Your world is waiting!

Now, many of the features VentureBeat touted about Sansar in their article about the relaunch were not exactly news to long-time Sansarians, or to avid readers of my blog: the new Avatar 2.0 avatars with facial deformation features, the Nexus, etc. But we oldbies are not the target audience here; Linden Lab is now pulling out all the stops to get maximum marketshare and mindshare in a social VR marketplace that suddenly got a lot more competitive. It’s a smart move.

They’ve also got lots of branded events coming up in the next little while to entice people to come visit.

I think it is probably safe to say that many other social VR platforms and virtual worlds were completely caught off guard by yesterday’s detailed announcement of Facebook Horizon, and they will need to take some time to adjust to the new reality, the “new normal”.


Now, back to the main event: Facebook Horizon.

Screen capture from Mark Zuckerberg’s OC6 Keynote Yesterday

You will remember that I left Facebook and Instagram as my New Year’s resolution at the end of 2018, in protest over what I saw as a number of very serious data security and privacy issues with the social network:

I am fed up. I have had enough. And I am fighting back the only way I can: by shutting down my Facebook and Instagram accounts and deleting all of the data that Facebook has gathered on me.

Well, last night I came crawling back to Facebook. But the company did indeed keep its promise: it did not offer to reconnect me with 13 years of data it had on me, which I had asked them to delete. However, Facebook still knows it’s me: many of the initial friend suggestions it made were people who I had been connected to on the previous incarnation of my account. (I politely declined all of them. I am doing things totally differently this time around.)

As it happens, I have used the same email address for both my Oculus hardware account and for my deleted-and-now-reinstated Facebook social network account. I have no idea if Facebook is going to keep those two accounts separate, or try to merge them sometime in the future. In fact, there’s still no concrete evidence to support the thesis that you have to have an account on the Facebook social network in order to use Horizon.

So now I have a shiny new empty Facebook account, but I am approaching this fully forearmed with the knowledge that Facebook will strip mine the hell out of any data I provide, as well as the knowledge that my data can (and in fact, already has been) weaponized by companies such as Cambridge Analytica and used against me.

I am willing to come back, but I am damn wary. And I have essentially locked down everything I can using Facebook’s own security and privacy settings, as well as installing and setting up the excellent F.B. (Fluff Buster) Purity web browser extension. Please note that Facebook does not like F.B. Purity, and will actively block any mention of F.B. Purity on its social network; I only learned about this tool through word of mouth, from other Facebook users. You can read more about it via the link I posted above.

Also, I have registered for the closed beta test of the new Facebook Horizon platform, which starts sometime in early 2020. The application process asked for my Oculus account information I provided when I first purchased and set up my Oculus Rift headset in January 2017, followed by the purchase and set up of my Oculus Quest in May 2019. (I have read on Reddit that Facebook will accept either a Facebook social network account or an Oculus account, but I did not see any option to enter the former, only the latter. Perhaps I missed something.)

All the short registration form asked me for was my gender (male, female, or something custom), what experience I had building content for social VR and virtual worlds (and what tools I used), and whether I lead, moderate, or administer an online community (such as Reddit, Facebook Groups, Discord, Twitch, etc.). I did tell them that I was an influential blogger who writes a blog about social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse, which gets anywhere between 600 and 6,000 views per day. (I forgot to tell them that I also have a popular Discord discussion forum associated with my blog. Oh well.)

The worst that can happen is that Facebook decides I am not worthy to enter the closed beta test, in which case I will need to examine my options. Also, Facebook may ask beta testers to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement), which is fairly common in these sorts of cases. For example, even though I was accepted into the Sansar closed alpha/beta testing back in December of 2016, I was not allowed to blog about anything I saw in-world until the open beta launch on July 31, 2019—and I also had to receive explicit permission from Linden Lab to post pictures taken before that date on my blog, as a sort of history of Sansar’s early development. We may face the same situation with Facebook Horizon. We’ll see. It’s still very early days.


It wasn’t until late last night that I realized several unusual things about the veritable flurry of announcements made at OC6.

First: Facebook still does not have a single social VR platform to bring together Oculus Go, Oculus Quest, and Oculus Rift users! Facebook Horizon is only intended for the Oculus Rift and the Oculus Quest. What this means for Oculus Go users is unclear.

Second, Facebook has announced that they will be shutting down both Facebook Spaces and Oculus Rooms on October 25th, 2019, presumably to free up staff who will be deployed to work on Facebook Horizon.

I will not be sorry to see Facebook Spaces go; as I have said before on this blog when making predictions in December 2018:

…we might yet see the launch of a new social VR platform backed by Facebook, after they decide to ditch the lamentable Facebook Spaces once and for all. Maybe it will be based on Oculus Rooms; maybe it will be something completely different. But despite my negative feelings about the social networking side of Facebook, they still have the hardware (Oculus), the money, and the reach to be a game-changer in social VR. (Just not with Facebook Spaces. At this point, they should just kill the project and start over. Any improvements will be like putting lipstick on a pig.)

Yep. Take that mutt out back behind the woodshed and put it out of its misery… I really doubt anybody was using Facebook Spaces anyway, despite courageous efforts by people such as Navah Berg to promote it. And I’m quite sure that the entire episode was instructive to Facebook about what works and doesn’t work in a social VR platform.

And Oculus Rooms was only for Gear VR and the Oculus Go, which means that they will have no Facebook-branded social VR platform at all. This is, of course, an opportunity to other, third-party platforms which support Gear VR and Oculus Go, such as AltspaceVR, Rec Room, Bigscreen, and vTime XR.

Interesting times ahead!

OC6 Starts Today: What Will Facebook Announce?

Today is the opening day of Oculus Connect 6 (OC6), a two-day event at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center in sunny, warm California, and it’s all everybody who is anybody in virtual reality and augmented reality has been talking about for weeks.

Even Facebook’s CEO has been in on the game, teasing users with cryptic announcements such as this one:

(RPG is short for role-playing game, in case you’re not up on the lingo. And Ready Player One, of course, is last year’s hit movie about virtual reality.)

Mark’s Facebook post led UploadVR to speculate:

What exactly could Zuckerberg be teasing here? In Ready Player One, the Oasis is an all-encompassing virtual metaverse that allows anyone to be whoever they want and do whatever they want. It’s so good that humanity basically loses itself inside the new world. We don’t think VR is quite ready for something of that scale, but this tease could be taking the first steps towards something like that.

We’ve written in the past about how confusing Facebook’s scattered social VR policy has been. Facebook Spaces appears to be all but forgotten about, Oculus Rooms never left Gear VR and Go, and Oculus Quest still doesn’t have its own social VR experience powered by Facebook.

Could we perhaps see Facebook announced a definitive social destination across Oculus Rift and Quest? … Maybe we’re just getting carried away, but it’s an exciting thought.

We’ll have to watch along with the keynote to find out.

Unfortunately, I am stuck here in the plunging autumn temperatures of Winnipeg, teaching undergraduate agriculture students how to use the library effectively to complete their assigments. So, alas, I am going to have to rely on second-hand accounts of what’s going on at OC6. If I am lucky, I might be able to catch the livestreams of Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote address and other events on the OculusConnect.com website, while I am multi-tasking (here are more details on how to watch from CNET). Of course, it’s not the same thing as actually being there.

And I am hoping (much like UploadVR) that there will be some sort of hint of Facebook’s code-named “Metaverse” social VR platform for Oculus Go, Oculus Quest, and Oculus Rift and Rift S users (which I’m willing to bet will be based on Oculus Home). Facebook has the capacity to steamroller the nascent social VR marketplace, and they’re not above using some dirty tactics to gain market share from competitors, according to a report compiled by SnapChat of their aggressive tactics, which has been submitted to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

So, stay tuned. Some interesting announcements may come out today or tomorrow.