Have you joined the RyanSchultz.com Discord yet? You’re invited to be a part of this cross-worlds discussion group, with 685 people participating from every social VR platform and virtual world! We discuss, debate and argue about the ever-evolving metaverse and all the companies building it. You’re welcome to come join us! More details here.
My sole remaining connection to Meta (formerly known as Facebook) is the now-somewhat-antiquated Oculus Rift headset attached to my work computer at the University of Manitoba Libraries, where I work as a science librarian. I do plan to replace it with an HTC Vive Pro 2 kit sometime later this year, the same model I specified in my proposal for a virtual reality lab for the Libraries, a task which took up a significant chunk of my spring.
A bit of background: Librarians at the U of M are members of the faculty union, and have a right and an obligation to pursue research, and I purchased the Oculus Rift to work on a social VR project which I regretfully had to suspend, due to it being wildly overambitious (more details here). Then, the pandemic happened and a monkey wrench got thrown into everything, and I have yet to determine the future direction of my social VR research. (My work on this blog is considered part of my research! Among those tasks I have on my to-do list is the reorganization and updating of my ever-popular list of metaverse platforms, as well as my spreadsheet of social VR platforms.)
Anyway, I bought (or rather, the University bought for me) the Oculus Rift before Meta/Facebook changed the rules two years ago, and insisted that all Oculus/Meta VR hardware users had to set up accounts on the Facebook social network in order to use their devices. That move was unpopular, especially among the VR community, and many complained (including myself, vociferously, in several editorials such as this and this), but to no avail. This corporate decision was the last straw for me, and I publicly declared a personal boycott, from that point on, of Meta hardware and software. (Hence my plan to upgrade my work Rift with a Vive Pro 2.)
When I set up my Rift, all I needed to do is set up a (separate) Oculus account. While Facebook/Meta kept prompting me to link my (non-existent) Facebook account to my Oculus account, by that time I had already fully departed from the social media platform.
Recently, I received the following email from Meta, which I present in full:
•A Facebook account is no longer required to use Meta VR devices. Instead, you can update your Oculus account to a Meta account, which lets you log into your VR devices and view and manage your purchased apps in one place. You can set up a Meta account using your email address or Facebook account, and as part of the process we’ll migrate your existing VR information (including apps, achievements, and friends) to this account.
•If you don’t want to set up a Meta account right now, you can continue using your Oculus account until January 1, 2023. After this date a Meta account will be required to continue using your Meta VR devices.
•End date for Oculus account support: We also added a statement as a reminder that support for Oculus accounts will end on January 1, 2023 and you will need to set up a Meta account to continue using our VR devices thereafter.
We’ll notify you when the Meta account is available so you have more choices over how you express yourself in VR. To learn more about these updates please visit our blog post.
The Meta Team
“More choices over how you express yourself in VR” (insert vomit emoji)
Kent Bye (the host of the influential Voices of VR podcast) had this to say:
Meta Quest’s Facebook account requirement to be replaced with Meta Account, which isn’t a social media account, but will also REQUIRE Meta Horizon profile (is a social media account) w a Follower model (can be set to private) & setting options of Public, Friends/Family, or “Solo”.
More information on this new Horizon World Profile can (oddly) be found on the Oculus blog, because the Oculus Profile Friends model will be deprecated & replaced by Horizon World Profile with Instagram Follow model, & will also be available on the web (?) https://www.oculus.com/blog/meta-accounts/
Meta making its first moves to manage identity in the metaverse: “Your Meta Horizon profile is your social profile in VR and other surfaces, like the web” includes unique profile username, displayed profile name, and “your profile photo, avatar, and more.”
Kent ends his tweet thread with the following post, referring to Meta’s Mark Rabkin:
The news that Meta was dropping the contentious Facebook account requirement has been thoroughly covered by the tech media, including David Heaney of UploadVR, who reported:
Meta headsets will no longer require a Facebook account from next month.
In August Meta will “begin rolling out” Meta accounts, which can be used to set up Meta headsets. You’ll still be able to link your Facebook account to your Meta account to message and call Facebook friends from inside VR, but this is no longer required.
If your Facebook is currently linked to your Quest, you can choose to unlink it when you set up your Meta account.
Graham Smith, of Rock Paper Shotgun, writes:
You won’t have to use Facebook or Instagram at all on the new accounts, but you can optionally link them if you want to be able to chat or play with friends from those services.
The Meta Horizon account will also let you customize your privacy settings, by letting everyone see your account, just friends and family, or no one at all.
Meta has different deadlines for when VR users will need to create a Meta account, and they depend on how people currently sign in to their VR devices. If you’re a new VR device user or previously merged your Oculus account with your Facebook account, you’ll be prompted in August to create a Meta account and Meta Horizon profile. People who previously merged their Oculus accounts with their Facebook accounts will be able to unlink them as well…
Meta will ask for your name, email address, phone number, payment information and date of birth for age verification when you create this new type of account. Meta says this information will be private and that users will be able to create multiple Meta accounts.
But Sam Machkovech, writing for the Ars Technica website, has some concerns:
As announced, the new “Meta Account” system will correct some of these most glaring issues. But will it be enough?
It’s hard to definitively answer this question. First, the new account system hasn’t gone live, so we can’t test one crucial aspect of the change. According to Meta, anyone who switched from an Oculus account to a Facebook-tied identity will be able to decouple all Facebook identity information while creating a new Meta Account starting in August.
We want to see what this update looks like: how software-purchase transfers will work, what notices may appear on affected Facebook accounts after the transfer, and how aggressive the company will be about asking Quest users if they’re really sure they want to sever Facebook from their headset experience. (Meta has already indicated that it will let users attach Facebook and Instagram credentials if they want.) Facebook representatives have not answered our questions about these concerns as of press time.
It’s a great article which I am not going to quote in full; please go over to Ars Technica to read it.
So, what do I think about all this?
Well, I think this all comes down to one word: TRUST.
And frankly, Meta/Facebook has proven, time and time again, that they cannot be trusted. Past behaviour, unfortunately, is often an excellent predictor of future behaviour. This applies to corporations as well as people.
Their decision to force a Facebook linkage to their then-Oculus VR hardware was ill-advised and poorly-received. I chatted via the RyanSchultz.com Discord with my friend Theanine, who had first alerted me to this news. He said, “Yup, I don’t know anyone who thought the FB requirement was a good move. It’s like they never bothered to get user feedback first.”
Here’s another snippet of our conversation (shared with permission):
Ryan: One thing I will be asking is: well, just HOW different will a Meta account be from the Facebook requirement?
Theanine: That’s the question. There’s people criticizing the move, saying that it changes nothing, because the potential for datamining is still there.
And you can bet your bottom dollar that Meta is going to find any way they can to wring every penny from its users, collecting all the information that it can to sell to advertisers—whether or not you choose to link your accounts on the Facebook or Instagram social networks.
Backtracking on the Facebook requirement might look good, but the fact remains that Meta, still, has an anti-competitive stranglehold on the wireless VR headset market with its Meta Quest 2 product. (And it certainly doesn’t help that, at the moment, its nearest competitor, the Pico G2 4K, is owned by TikTok’s corporate parent, the Chinese company ByteDance. I’m still holding out hope for the LYNX project in France, which has had a successful Kickstarter campaign.)
Meta is going to use every tool and tactic at their disposal (including the billions of dollars of advertising revenue the company earns) in order to maintain that market dominance—and part of that dominance includes the strip-mining of your personal data, regardless of how you connect to their products and services.
So yes, I am wary of this move. While I applaud Meta’s removal of the Facebook requirement, like Kent Bye and Sam Machkovech, I want to see the details. At the moment, this is just spin by some handsomely-compensated public relations executives.
So my personal boycott of Meta hardware and software will continue, except for my work Rift, which I will be replacing this year. Once that is done, I will have burnt my last bridge with Meta, and believe me, it’s going to take more that slapping a fresh coat of paint on my soon-to-be-deleted Oculus account to win me back.
Thank you to Theanine for the heads up on this story, for giving me permission to quote him, and for providing many of the news media links I referred to in this blogpost!