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: My Social VR/Virtual World Predictions for 2021

Photo by Hulki Okan Tabak on Unsplash

Every year, for the past couple of years, I have traditionally drawn up and published a list of predictions on where I see social VR and virtual worlds going over the next twelve months. As someone who keeps an eagle eye on the comings and goings of the various companies that are building the ever-evolving metaverse, I’m pretty well placed to be able to make some educated guesses.

However, you should be aware that my track record as a prognosticator is truly lamentable; more often than not, I have been proven dead wrong. For example, I rather sarcastically predicted that Cryptovoxels would fail, hard, and it has done nothing but flourish (something which I am happy to see and report on here on the RyanSchultz.com blog). So, what do I know?

Therefore, please take the following three predictions with a grain of salt.

Second Life will continue to be successful and profitable—but it will face increasing competition from newer platforms such as VRChat, and it will no longer be the most popular virtual world

My first prediction is a no-brainer. In my predictions for 2019, I wrote that Second Life would “continue to coast along, baffling the mainstream news media and the general public with its vitality and longevity”, and that still holds true. Linden Lab sold the money-losing Sansar social VR platform to Wookey, and the remaining, profitable company was successfully acquired by the Waterfield investment group.

As of yet, there have been no major changes announced by the new owners; it would appear that Waterfield is content with the way that Linden Lab is running the virtual world of Second Life and the Tilia payment processing business (which has also been picked up by a few non-SL clients). However, Linden Lab’s CEO, Ebbe Altberg, might decide that this year is now a good time for him to step down (although I would personally hate to see him go, as he has been one of the better CEOs in Linden Lab’s sometimes rocky history).

However, I will agree with a prediction made by Wagner James Au of the long-running blog New World Notes, who in his list of predictions stated:

Both VRChat and Rec Room will finally surpass Second Life in peak concurrency numbers.

In fact, we have already seen days and times when the total number of users in both VRChat and Rec Room surpasses that of Second Life. I predict that 2021 will finally be the year that a newer platform will pass the venerable Second Life to become the most popular metaverse.

I am busy exploring VRChat most evenings, wearing my Valve Index VR headset and using my Knuckles controllers, and greatly enjoying the enhanced audiovisual experience it gives me. (I get a big kick of out being able to wiggle my avatar’s fingers!) VRChat now gives me serious vibes of what Second Life was like in its heyday, circa 2006 and 2007: a place which you might not always like, but a place you could not afford to ignore! A place where you are never quite sure what is going to happen.

And it would appear that other popular social VR platforms, such as Rec Room, are also reaping the benefits of the network effect: the more people who join a platform, the better the value it provides. This same network effect helped drive Facebook into becoming the dominant force in social media, and it turned Fortnite into a cultural juggernaut, so it is not something to be lightly dismissed.

The coronavirus pandemic will continue to provide opportunities for social VR and virtual world companies, particularly for remote workteams, conferences, and education

The testing, approval, manufacture, and delivery of COVID-19 vaccines will continue to be slower than originally anticipated, and virus mutations may blunt the effectiveness of some vaccines, and require some to be reformulated in response. All of this means that we are not going to be returning to “normal” anytime very soon.

This situation provides a window of opportunity for metaverse-building companies to sell their products and services to corporations, conferences, and educational institutions. I expect that we will see more announcements this year of conferences taking place with a social VR/virtual world component, for example.

While games and recreation will still form the largest part of the virtual reality consumer market, we can also expect to see more practical applications of VR in areas such as pain reduction, physical rehabilitation, and mental heath support.

And we can expect that more and more corporations will be looking at downsizing expensive downtown real estate and shifting permanently to remote workteams, which will fuel the what I like to call the “YARTVRA” (Yet Another Remote Teamwork Virtual Reality App) market.

Facebook is going to have a very bad year, despite the commercial success of the Oculus Quest 2

The Quest 2 is not a toy. It’s a virus disguised as a toy.

—Cix Liv, The Voices of VR Podcast with Kent Bye (source)

Speaking of Facebook, I predict that the corporate behemoth is going to have a rocky year. On December 3rd, 2020, Bloomberg News published an article on their website, titled Facebook Accused of Squeezing Rival Startups in Virtual Reality (original article, archived link), which paints a rather damning picture of Facebook’s ruthless corporate tactics in dealing with (and stealing business ideas from) much smaller companies.

Frankly, Facebook faces major hurdles in public relations and public perception, a problem that is only growing worse as the company becomes more powerful and more profitable, and seeks to enter and dominate new markets. Many people (myself included among them) simply don’t trust Facebook anymore, and aren’t willing to have their personal data shared among the many companies under the Facebook umbrella, strip-mined for profit, and sold to the highest bidder.

To give one example, recent changes to WhatsApp privacy policies, forcing users to share information with Facebook, have led to many people abandoning the messaging platform. Add to this the recently-announced U.S. federal government investigation into Facebook’s possible illegal monopolization of the social networking market, and the fuss kicked up in the virtual reality community by Facebook requiring Oculus VR device users to sign up for Facebook accounts, and it seems pretty clear that Mark Zuckerberg will be called upon to testify before even more government panels this year. (And you might not know this, but the next time that Mark or Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg set foot on Canadian soil, they can be compelled to appear before a Canadian parliamentary committee with jurisdiction over tech issues, as a direct result of refusing to show up for hearings in 2019, which were attended by representatives of countries all over the world.)


So, these are my three predictions for 2021 (and I reserve the right to add more as they come to me). What do you think will happen this year? Feel free to leave a comment on this blogpost, or join the free-wheeling discussion on the RyanSchultz.com Discord channel, and share your predictions with the 460-plus members there! We’d love to have you become a part of our cross-worlds community!

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