Why I Am Leaving Facebook and Instagram

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This evening I finally made a decision. Last summer, I had shared VR pioneer Jaron Lanier’s 10 arguments for deleting your social media accounts on my blog, but I decided at the time that, while Facebook was evil, it was a necessary evil, a way to promote my blog and to stay connected with other people in exchange for being data-mined and sold to advertisers, and therefore I stayed put.

But after reading the latest New York Times report on how Facebook allowed other companies to access its users’ private information without their knowledge or consent, it was the last straw for me:

For years, Facebook gave some of the world’s largest technology companies more intrusive access to users’ personal data than it has disclosed, effectively exempting those business partners from its usual privacy rules, according to internal records and interviews.

The special arrangements are detailed in hundreds of pages of Facebook documents obtained by The New York Times. The records, generated in 2017 by the company’s internal system for tracking partnerships, provide the most complete picture yet of the social network’s data-sharing practices. They also underscore how personal data has become the most prized commodity of the digital age, traded on a vast scale by some of the most powerful companies in Silicon Valley and beyond.

The exchange was intended to benefit everyone. Pushing for explosive growth, Facebook got more users, lifting its advertising revenue. Partner companies acquired features to make their products more attractive. Facebook users connected with friends across different devices and websites. But Facebook also assumed extraordinary power over the personal information of its 2.2 billion users — control it has wielded with little transparency or outside oversight.

Facebook allowed Microsoft’s Bing search engine to see the names of virtually all Facebook users’ friends without consent, the records show, and gave Netflix and Spotify the ability to read Facebook users’ private messages.

The social network permitted Amazon to obtain users’ names and contact information through their friends, and it let Yahoo view streams of friends’ posts as recently as this summer, despite public statements that it had stopped that type of sharing years earlier.

I strongly urge you to go to the New York Times website (using the link above) and read the entire article. This is the latest of several damning exposés by the New York Times and other news media on just how much we have been abused—yes, I said, abused—by a social network where we are the product to be bought and sold.

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. Here’s a link to another New York Times article that gives step-by-step instructions on how to do this. Here’s another article by Consumer Reports.

When am I doing this? At the end of the year. It will give me a couple of weeks to let everybody know, and for me—and them—to set up alternate arrangements to communicate with me, if they wish to do so outside of Facebook.

How is this going to impact me? Well, the biggest thing that I use Facebook for right now is to promote my blog in various Second Life and virtual reality communities on Facebook. I can find other ways to do that. I have also used Facebook to keep in touch with a wide range of real-life and online friends. I will find other ways to stay in touch with people.

As for Instagram, well, I barely use that anyways, so it won’t be any big loss.

But I have finally decided that enough is enough, that Facebook is no longer a necessary evil, but a true evil. And I will longer support it or participate in it, after the end of this year. I will continue to use and support the Oculus VR hardware. But I will no longer use any social media operated by Facebook (that includes Facebook Spaces, the incredibly lame social VR app they launched over a year ago). Using Facebook Spaces requires you to have a Facebook account, so it gets ditched as well. No great loss there either.

I will also be boycotting any service which requires me to have a Facebook/Instagram account to use it. (Thank God, I didn’t use Facebook to log into other websites whenever they offered that as an option. I always went the personal username/email and password route instead. That means that untangling myself from Facebook should be much easier for me.)

It’s going to be an adjustment. I’m going to miss communicating with many of you on Facebook and via Messenger. You and I are going to have to find other, better ways to communicate. Like email, texting/SMS, Skype, FaceTime and the telephone. Like this blog and its comments section. Like my new Discord server. I have lots of options available for you to get ahold of me.

I will be giving up traffic from Facebook to my blog, which was significant but not irreplaceable. I will find other places to promote my blog, other ways to let people know what I’m doing. You can sign up to get blog updates via email (see the left-hand-side panel, under FOLLOW RYANSCHULTZ.COM VIA EMAIL, right under the eight social media buttons). And I’ll be turning off a couple of those social media buttons, too.

goodbye

Good-bye, Facebook. It’s been a fun 13 years. But I no longer trust you, and I’m leaving, and I’m deleting my account and all my data before I go.

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UPDATED: Which Social VR Platforms and Virtual Worlds Will Benefit from the Upcoming Standalone VR Headset Oculus Quest?

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As many of you already know, Oculus is releasing a new, standalone VR headset, the Oculus Quest, sometime this coming spring, 2019. Priced at just US$399, it is sure to be a popular option for people who are interested in VR, but who don’t want to purchase a more expensive VR headset solution like the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.

The Oculus Rift is meant to fill the space in the Oculus product line-up between their entry-level, lower-powered standalone VR headset, the Oculus Go, and the Oculus Rift, a VR headset with Touch controllers which requires a high-end Windows gaming-level PC with a good graphics card to run. (Unfortunately, there is, as yet, no satisfactory native virtual reality hardware solution for Apple Mac users, although there are native Mac desktop clients for virtual worlds such as High Fidelity and Sinespace.)

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If the Oculus Quest becomes very popular, those social VR platforms which can run on the Quest hardware may gain an advantage over those which require a full-blown VR headset and a higher-end computer.

I think it’s safe to assume that Facebook/Oculus properties such as Facebook Spaces and Oculus Rooms (or at least some version of them) will be available for the Oculus Quest on its launch date. Social VR platforms with simpler avatars and spaces, which already run on the Oculus Go (like AltspaceVR, Bigscreen, and vTime) will probably also be available for the Quest.

Surprisingly, Rec Room, TheWaveVR, and VRChat are not among the social VR programs that are currently available for the Oculus Go ( I searched for them on the Oculus Go apps store and could not find any mention of them.) It remains to be seen if the companies behind those three products will release versions which will run on the more powerful Oculus Quest.

In a discussion thread over on the official High Fidelity user forums, HiFi CEO Philip Rosedale stated back in October:

We are definitely going to get High Fidelity running on as many standalone devices as we can, and we love the Quest. VR will not find a large audience until the Quest and other devices (like the Mirage and Vive Focus) become widely available.

Talking to Oculus about the process now… stay tuned.

When asked for to provide a more recent update, Philip added:

Yes, we are working on the Quest, and hope to have High Fidelity ready to run on it for launch! Very high quality device.

I also don’t know what Sinespace’s exact plans are for the Oculus Quest, but Adan Frisby, their lead developer, said on a Facebook comment when I cross-posted this blogpost over there:

We’ll be fine with it too – anyone doing Android support will have an easier time of it.

So it looks like High Fidelity and Sinespace will indeed both be working with the Oculus Quest, if not right at launch date, then shortly thereafter. This gives them both an advantage over Linden Lab’s Sansar, which very likely will not be able to work with the Quest. There’s still a lot of data that has to get sent to and from a VR headset to properly render Sansar experiences (especially for any experience which has global illumination enabled), which would probably completely overload any standalone headset, regardless of what processor it contains and how much memory it has (the Oculus Quest is supposed to ship with 64GB of storage for programs).

As I often say: interesting times ahead! Let’s hope that the Oculus Quest makes a big splash and brings even more people into VR. A rising tide lifts all boats, and many social VR platforms would benefit from greater consumer awareness and uptake of virtual reality in general. And I promise to cover all of it as it happens on this blog!

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

UPDATE Dec. 14th: Adeon Writer posted the following to the VirtualVerse Discord server (VirtualVerse is the successor to the long-running SLUniverse forums):

VRChat was just announced for the Oculus Store. While it already worked with Oculus on Steam, [the] OculusSDK version of VRChat means it will almost certainly be ported to Oculus Quest when it comes out, making it the first metaverse-style game available for wireless/unteathered/portable VR.

Thanks, Adeon!

 

Which Social VR Spaces Will Benefit From the Oculus Go?

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Image from https://www.oculus.com/go/

Mashable reviewer Raymond Wong has given the new Oculus Go headset a rave review:

Oculus Go is the VR headset we’ve all been waiting for: fully self-contained. It’s super clichéd to say a product is the “iPhone of [product category],” but the Oculus Go really is.

It’s the only VR headset that provides a good VR experience without the complexities of configuring a smartphone or PC. It’s not the most cutting-edge VR headset— that’ll always be reserved for PC VR headsets — but it’s the most frictionless way to dive into the virtual world. Oculus Go is the first VR headset you can casually pick up and use without needing to set time aside for setup.

Standalone VR headsets are the future. They’re the “sweet spot” as Zuckerberg also said at Oculus Connect. Oculus Go is an important stepping stone towards more powerful standalone VR headsets, like Facebook’s own Santa Cruz VR headset, that’ll inch us closer towards a Holodeck.

The Oculus Go is the VR headset that’ll help mainstream VR. It may still be another few more years, but this is the one that changes everything.

The Oculus Go features over 1,000 VR games, social apps, and 360° experiences at launch, including the social VR spaces vTime and AltspaceVR. (Surprisingly, Facebook Spaces is not among them.) It makes sense that social VR apps that lock you into one place (like vTime) or which have very basic avatars (like AltspaceVR) would be usable in Oculus Go. If Oculus Go becomes very popular, as it might, these social VR platforms may indeed have an advantage over those which require a full-blown VR headset and a higher-end computer, such as Sansar or High Fidelity.

One social VR platform on the Oculus Go that most impressed Raymond was Oculus Rooms:

My favorite VR experience for the Go is Oculus Rooms 2.0. First launched on Rift and Gear VR, the updated Rooms is like virtual hangout for you and your friends to chill in.

There are three main sections of Rooms: A “Media Area” with a giant screen where you can watch videos and view media content, a “Games Table” where you can play various games like matching cards and Reversi (more games like Boggle, Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit are coming from Hasbro later), and “Your Room” where you can decorate your space by customizing things like your furniture textures, the photos on your walls, and the scene out the virtual window.

 The Rooms experience isn’t photo-realistic by any means, but it’s the best showcase of social VR. Here, inside of this virtual room, you can invite your friends from anywhere in the world to come and watch a video with you. Or watch a video, while playing mini games. Or just hang out and have a conversation.

I thought it would be stupid at first, but it’s one of the most natural things I’ve ever done in VR. And even though it’s nowhere near as full-featured as Facebook Spaces for the Oculus Rift, it’s still pretty damn fun to chill in even if you’re not doing anything but kicking back and watching a video.

Rooms is the first thing I showed people when I handed them Oculus Go, and it never failed to blow them away. Even friends who were extremely skeptical of VR or had written it off as a fad were impressed. Rooms is to Oculus Go the way Wii Sports was to the Wii — it’ll hook you instantly.

Polygon, in its article on Oculus Go, also notes the appeal of Oculus Rooms:

The headset’s Oculus Rooms feature allows me to create my own social space for my family and friends in virtual reality. I can sit and chat with them, via pretty little avatars. We can share home movies and photos by linking our phones to the headset. We can watch movies together. We can play basic parlor games. It feels like a natural and useful implementation of virtual reality, and it’s powered by a $200 stand-alone headset. This is an actual place where I want to spend time.

And the Polygon writer, Colin Campbell, adds this interesting note about why Oculus Rooms is not available for the Oculus Rift headset:

One irritating aspect of Oculus Go’s launch is that core social function Oculus Rooms won’t be available for Rift. We asked a spokesperson why Rift owners are being left out, and received the following statement.

“Rift users can use Facebook Spaces to make their VR experience a more social one. Facebook Spaces is designed to take full advantage of PC VR platforms to power social experiences, while Oculus Rooms is designed to help people connect with friends and family on lower-compute mobile VR devices. It’s great to have different kinds of social experiences on different platforms because it’s still early days for VR, and it helps us learn while giving people a variety of ways to interact.”

As a Rift owner who doesn’t use Facebook, I find this disappointing. But if Go is a commercial success, maybe the company will find a way to allow Rooms and Facebook Spaces to live together across its portfolio of devices.


One of the problems in getting many existing social VR software clients to run on the Oculus Go is that their programs need to be made to run in as little storage as possible. (For example, the Sansar client uses tens of gigabytes of memory storage for caching experiences you visit, so they will load more quickly the next time you come back.)  There’s only 32GB (or 64GB if you buy the upgraded version) of total program storage on the Oculus Go:

Oculus was generous enough to give me pre-release access to the Oculus Store, so I went kind of crazy downloading and installing as many different apps as my 32GB headset could hold.

Most VR apps are around 500-700MB, and 3D games usually clocked in at no more than 5GB. Just something to keep in mind if you’re deciding between the 32GB and 64GB Oculus Go. If you’re planning on playing a lot of 3D games, I recommend going with the higher storage model because there’s no adding more later.

The bigger problem is that high-quality social VR requires a very high rate of data transfer (that cord tethering your Oculus Rift to your PC is there for a reason!). It’s highly doubtful that you would be able to achieve that same high data transfer rate on the Oculus Go. The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive rely on higher-end gaming machines with powerful integrated graphics cards to be able to deliver the necessary 90 frames per second performance so you don’t get sick in VR.

That being said, and ignorant as I am of the other technical challenges that face those who want to port existing social VR platforms to the Oculus Go, I’d love to hear what others have to say. What do you think are the major obstacles in bringing programs like Sansar, High Fidelity, Sinespace or VRChat to the Oculus Go and similar all-in-one VR headsets?