UPDATED Editorial: Some Thoughts on the Facebookening of Oculus

A lot has been written recently about what some are calling the “Facebookening” of Oculus (a term used by Ars Technica in its coverage here and here): renaming Oculus as Facebook Reality Labs, and replacing the annual Oculus Connect event with last week’s Facebook Connect (where, of course, you had to have a Facebook account in order to view this year’s presentations).

Yelena Ratichsky, executive producer of AR/VR media at what is now called Facebook Reality Labs, tweeted:

What are you most excited about for tomorrow’s Connect?

To which I rather boldly replied:

I’m sorry, but I’m not excited. In response to the requirement that I have to set up a Facebook account to use my Oculus devices, I will be selling or giving away my Rift and Quest within the two-year window, and personally boycotting Facebook products and services from now on.

As part of my personal boycott of Facebook products and services, I have been trying to give away my Oculus Quest wireless VR headset to someone else in my family. I asked five of my relatives—and nobody wants it. One of my adult nephews specifically cited not wanting to set up a Facebook account in order to use it. (It looks like it will be donated to my sister-in-law’s workplace; she works at a program for adults with developmental disabilities.)

I have found that so, so much has changed from a year ago, when the first Oculus Quest was released, a product I eagerly bought and reviewed on this blog. I even went so far as to purchase a cable to try out Oculus Link, a PCVR solution for the Quest which worked flawlessly with programs like Sansar that were too graphics-intensive for the standalone headset.

At the time I was so excited by the possibilities of this new technology, and happy that Facebook was working to bring virtual reality to the average consumer. A rising tide lifts all boats, as I like to say. I used to naively think that what benefitted Facebook would benefit us all.

Now, today, I feel zero sense of excitement. Instead I feel a sense of despair, even dread—a deep, foreboding feeling about the future.

Stop and ask yourself why Facebook would decide to forcibly yoke together the Facebook social network with Oculus devices (something Oculus founder Palmer Luckey was promised would never happen when Facebook bought his company):

Oculus founder and Rift inventor Palmer Luckey says he “really believed” Oculus headsets would never need a Facebook sign-in to operate, based on promises made during his time at the company.

Yesterday, Facebook announced that, from October, first-time sign-ins to Oculus headsets would require a Facebook account. Pre-existing Oculus accounts will continue to function as normal until 2023, when Facebook will end support and users will lose unspecified features. When Facebook first bought Oculus in 2014, Oculus executives — including Luckey — gave multiple assurances that users would not need a Facebook account to use their headset.

Following yesterday’s news, Luckey took to Reddit, claiming that he “really believed” Facebook wouldn’t enforce such a requirement and that the company promised him as much on multiple occasions. “I want to make clear that those promises were approved by Facebook in that moment and on an ongoing basis,” Luckey said, “and I really believed it would continue to be the case for a variety of reasons. In hindsight, the downvotes from people with more real-world experience than me were definitely justified.”

While Palmer could hardly be faulted for being young and naive enough to believe promises by Facebook executives that nothing would change (only to be later shown the door), it has now become clear what Mark Zuckerberg’s grand strategy is, and why he spent 3 billion dollars to purchase Oculus in the first place.

It’s all about hopping on what Mark dearly hopes will be the next iPhone, the next big thing, the next must-have device. It’s all about power. It’s all about control. And it’s all about making ridiculous amounts of profit off your personal data.

And I believe that Facebook’s strategy is: to utterly dominate the nascent virtual reality market, to create a lucrative but ultimately limiting walled ecosystem, to crush potential competitors, and to strip-mine your personal data to build an ever more detailed and intrusive personal profile of you—your likes and dislikes, your network of friends, family and coworkers, even biometric data from your Oculus device usage, such as your eye movements—in order to strip-mine it and sell access to that precious data to corporations and campaigns. All with very little oversight.


UPDATE Sept. 21st, 2020: Originally, I had quoted an editorial from Ben Egliston of MENAFN, but I have since discovered that he plagiarized the original editorial, which was written by Marcus Carver of The Conversation, so I have updated this blogpost accordingly to give proper credit where credit is due. (Note to Ben: do not fuck with the librarians, honey; they will find you out! Cite your sources!)

As Marcus Varver has writen has written in an editorial for The Conversation, titled Facebook’s virtual reality push is about data, not gaming:

A VR headset collects data about the user, but also about the outside world. This is one of the key ethical issues of emerging “mixed reality” technologies.

As American VR researcher Jeremy Bailenson has written:

“…commercial VR systems typically track body movements 90 times per second to display the scene appropriately, and high-end systems record 18 types of movements across the head and hands. Consequently, spending 20 minutes in a VR simulation leaves just under 2 million unique recordings of body language.”

The way you move your body can be used to identify you, like a fingerprint, so everything you do in VR could be traced back to your individual identity.

Facebook’s Oculus Quest headsets also use outward-facing cameras to track and map their surroundings.

In late 2019 Facebook said they “don’t collect and store images or 3D maps of your environment on our servers today”. Note the word today, which tech journalist Ben Lang notes makes clear the company is not ruling out anything in the future.


Think that the collection and dissection of that sort of data won’t happen? I have news for you, sweetheart; in many ways, that data collection is already happening. Extending even firmer Facebook control over Oculus devices is simply adding to the existing store of data that Facebook can collect on you.

A little over a year ago, I wrote on this blog (and yes, I will quote what I said at length, because it is important and worth repeating):

Facebook has the resources to capably crush competitors. Strip-mining the data of the estimated 2.7 billion people worldwide who use Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, or Messenger each month has been extremely lucrative for the company. (The five billion dollar fine the U.S. FTC recently levied against Facebook for their privacy lapses was a mere slap on the wrist, given the income the company generates each year from advertising. Mark Zuckerberg probably found the money from his couch cushions.)

Which leads to the point of this editorial: in this evolving metaverse of social VR and virtual worlds, is too much power concentrated in the hands of a single, monolithic, profit-obsessed company? I would argue that Facebook is aiming for complete and utter domination of the VR universe, just as they already have in the social networking space, by creating a walled ecosystem with the Oculus Home and the Oculus Store that will have a negative impact on other companies trying to create and market VR apps and experiences. The field is already tilted too much in Facebook’s favour, and the situation could get worse.

Now, you can argue that Facebook has competition from other VR headsets such as the HTC Vive line of products and the Valve Index. And the Steam software distribution platform is an alternative to the Oculus Store. I understand that my purchased programs from the Oculus Store can still be played on an HTC Vive or Valve Index with the Revive software, which is somewhat reassuring to me (although I suppose there is nothing really stopping Facebook if they choose to block that avenue at some point in the future).

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.

We can’t trust that Facebook is going to act in any interests other than its own profit. Facebook has way too much power, and governments around the world need to act in the best interests of their citizens in demanding that the company be regulated, even broken up if necessary.

Well, now we know how that went; you will indeed have to set up a Facebook account to use your Oculus VR devices, going forward. All the better to collect, dissect, and sell your personal data to the highest bidder, my dear…and if you think you can get around this niggly little detail by setting up a fake account, well then, don’t be too surprised if you find yourself losing access to your content, and locked out of your VR headset. Facebook expects your real name, and that real-name policy has already generated plenty of controversy, as this link to Wikipedia illustrates.

I am going to give the last word to British journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who was also part of The Great Hack documentary (which I highly recommend you watch on Netflix). She wrote, in a damning Guardian newspaper editorial two months ago :

In 2016, we didn’t know. We were innocent. We still believed social media connected us and that connections were good. That technology equalled progress. And progress equalled better.

Four years on, we know too much. And yet, it turns out, we understand nothing. We know social media is a bin fire and that the world is burning…

In Facebook’s case, the worst has already happened. We’ve just failed to acknowledge it. Failed to reckon with it. And there’s no vaccine coming to the rescue. In 2016 everything changed. As for 2020… well, we will see.

We have already been through the equivalent of a social media pandemic – an unstoppable contagion that has sickened our information space, infected our public discourse, silently and invisibly subverted our electoral systems. It’s no longer about if this will happen all over again. Of course, it will. It hasn’t stopped. The question is whether our political systems, society, democracy, will survive – can survive – the age of Facebook.

We are already through the looking glass. In 2016, a hostile foreign government used Facebook to systematically undermine and subvert an American election. With no consequences. Nobody, no company, no individual or nation state has ever been held to account.

Zuckerberg says Black Lives Matter and yet we know Donald Trump used Facebook’s tools to deliberately suppress and deny black and Latino people the vote. With no consequences.

And though we know the name “Cambridge Analytica” and were momentarily outraged by Facebook’s complicity in allowing 87 million people’s personal data to be stolen and repurposed including by the Trump campaign. A 5 billion dollar fine was paid but no individuals were held to account.

Will Facebook be used to subvert the 2020 US presidential election? Yes. Will Facebook be held to account? No. Are we looking at a system shock that will change America for ever? Yes. Because Trump will either win this election using Facebook or he will lose it using Facebook. Both ways spell disaster. On Sunday, interviewed by a Fox reporter, he refused to say if he would leave the White House if he lost the election.

America, the idea of America, is on the brink. And at the cold, dead heart of the suicide mission it has set itself on, is Facebook. Facebook and America are now indivisible. Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, these are now the bloodstream of American life and politics. A bloodstream that is sick.

And so the world is sick, because American capitalism has been the vector that has brought this infection across the globe. Algorithmically amplified “free speech” with no consequences. Lies spread at speed. Hate freely expressed, freely shared. Ethnic hatred, white supremacy, resurgent Nazism all spreading invisibly, by stealth beyond the naked eye.

This is Facebook’s world now. And we live in it. And if you’re not terrified about what this means it’s because you haven’t been paying attention.


Housekeeping Notes: This editorial was originally labelled Part I, because I suspect that this will be only the first of many editorials I will be writing about Facebook’s role in virtual reality on this blog. For example, Facebook’s decision to stop selling the Oculus Rift in favour of the Oculus Quest 2 is a topic for another day. The August 20th, 2020 Ars Technica editorial by Sam Machkovech, titled Why the Facebookening of Oculus VR is bad for users, devs, competition, raises so many fascinating ideas that it warrants a separate, detailed editorial all on its own. There’s no shortage of stuff to write about here!

And I’m quite sure there will be many other things to talk about as Facebook Horizon rolls out, including the Big Brother-like real-time observation of its users, and I hope that these editorials will spark some lively and informed discussion of the issues.

Will we see a David-versus-Goliath resistance rise up against Facebook in light of its recent policy changes and its ongoing business practices? Who knows what will happen. Facebook has deep pockets to spend on things such as advertising, lawyers, and lobbyists to get its own way. But it will be fascinating to watch it all unfold, nonetheless. We could well be seeing the first major ethical and ideological battle of the new age of the metaverse taking place.

So, what do you think? Please feel free to leave a comment below, or better yet, join the ongoing discussions, debates, and arguments about all aspects of social VR, virtual worlds, and the ever-evolving metaverse on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server. We’d love to hear your opinions on all this!

P.S. Yes, I still intend to take a break from social media and news media (well, as best I can, anyways) from now until after the U.S. federal election. I have no doubt my readers will alert me if something major happens over the next two months!

UPDATED! The 2020 Burning Man Festival Takes Place August 31st to September 6th on Ten Different Social VR Platforms and Virtual Worlds

The real-life Burning Man festival has been cancelled, but you can participate in a virtual version of the event on ten different platforms in 2020.

For the first time since its start in 1986, the Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, this year the festival is moving into a Multiverse of ten different platforms and services:

Here is a very brief guide to what’s going on where, with information taken from their website.

BURN2 (in Second Life)

Burning Man played a pivotal role in the development of Second Life, as explained in the history of BURN2:

In 1999, a dreamy guy from San Francisco decided to go explore this Burning Man thing he’d been hearing about. Into his car he tossed a tent, water and everything else he needed to survive, then he drove 300 miles out to the Nevada high desert.

He arrived at a featureless, 40-square-mile expanse of cracked mud, ringed by distant mountains. Hot. It was terribly hot. Except when the sun went down. Then it was just plain cold. The Black Rock Desert is an ancient dry lake bed. “The Playa”, geologists called it; harsh, foreign, unforgiving and so shockingly barren that it *begs* to be your empty canvas. A strange encampment had been erected there, ringed around a 40-foot tall anthropomorphic wooden statue destined to be burned the last night.

What the Dreamer found there— a huge group of people, self-organized into a city, collaboratively creating a different reality— tweaked the direction of the project he was working on back in San Francisco, and filled his head with ideas about the nature of reality, creativity, identity and community. He worked some of these ideas into the very fabric of his project, “Linden World”, which you and I now know as Second Life. That Dreamer was Linden Lab founder Philip Rosedale.

So it is not surprising that a virtual version of Burning Man has been a part of Second Life since its very beginning, in 2003. This event usually happens in October (so as not to detract from the actual, real-world event), but this year there will be a version of BURN2 running from August 29th to September 6th (here is the calendar of events). You can join the festivities in-world (SLURL) or watch it streaming live on Mixcloud.

The Infinite Playa (in what looks like Sansar?)

ENTRY UPDATED Aug. 30th, 2020: It turns out that I was wrong. I could have sworn that from the pictures on their website (and the video below) that this was taking place in Sansar, but apparently, this is something different. And they are way behind in getting it all set up, too!

We are soooooo close to gates open on The Infinite Playa! Our entire team, in collaboration with 100’s of artist performers, DJs, speakers, teachers and camp leaders have been working tirelessly to get us to launch. Turns out creating an interactive, photo-real virtual playa from scratch in just a few short months is…no small feat – who knew?To give you the best (admittedly beta) experience we can, we have decided to delay the launch a few days.

Not to fear – the free “Watch the Infinite” portal will launch on this site Monday August 31st at noon, where you will be able to access live stream performances, talks and art from within The Infinite Playa.

Tickets will go on sale…really, really soon, no seriouslyplease hold while we write some code…

Here’s their website, and a promotional video. Whatever it is, it sure looks a lot like Sansar!

The ticket portal is not up yet, but once it is, I will put in a link to it here. Also, it’s not clear if you need to register on The Infinite Playa website (the form is at the bottom of the page) in order to attend. I did, but I haven’t gotten an email confirmation back yet. It looks as though a lot of this is being set up frantically at the last minute!

And tickets are NOT cheap, either. This is easily the most expensive of the ten virtual Burning Man platforms that make up the Multiverse:

■ Visitor – Two Hour Pass – $20
Weekend Warrior – Five Hour Pass – $40
Dusty Explorer – Ten Hour Pass – $75
Founder’s Package – 24 Hour Pass – $150 (includes executable file)
Downloadable executable file available for purchase for $100 with unlimited access to the interactive experience all week. A gaming PC with a GTX1080 or higher graphics card required (sorry no MacOS version just yet).

Wait…a 24-hour Founder’s pass is $150, but an unlimited access pass is $100? What?

BRCvr (in AltspaceVR)

BRCvr (website) is taking place on the popular social VR platform AltspaceVR:

Here’s all the information you need to visit BRCvr. The initial meet-and-greet event takes place on Sunday, August 30th (here’s a link to event on the event calendar), and you can check the AltspaceVR Events Calendar to see what is taking place where.

SparkleVerse (in Sparkle)

SparkleVerse will be held in Sparkle, which is an open source fork of an experimental social contextual project which runs on mobile devices and on flatscreen computer desktop, from August 30th to Septemver 7th, 2020. Tickets are by donation via EventBrite.

MysticVerse

MysticVerse bills itself as “a fully immersive, interactive 3D experience: a visionary expression of a virtual Black Rock City”. There’s not a whole lot of information on their website, but according to their FAQ:

The MysticVerse can be accessed from any device (mobile, desktop, VR headset) and on any operating system. RSVP here and be the first to know when the gates open to our universe.

MultiVerse

MultiVerse (website; to be confused with the Burning Man Multiverse) will be taking place on a mobile/VR app called IIR:

IIR stands for “Interactive Immersive Reality.” This immersive visual technology runs on mobile phones and VR headsets. Think of IIR as a stack of technologies that take an immersive experience to the next level. IIR provides the ability to 3rd parties to access the virtual environment from a web-based portal for certain things. For example, here camps can broadcast live events and music remotely into the environment from a simple-to-use web portal. In addition, IIR shows the 3D objects photo-realistically, meaning that their look and feel as they are in real life, is preserved. In addition, with IIR we can simulate large environments such as the entire Black Rock City with all the camps, art, music stages, etc. and have people appear as 3D avatars that can communicate via live voice.

There’s not a lot of information on their website, but you can RSVP here.

UPDATE Aug. 31st, 2020: I just received an email update from the creators:

We wanted to send out this quick update to let you all know that we just submitted to the Android and iOS app stores. We hope the apps will be live by tonight, but sometimes it can take a bit longer. Like anything on the playa (IRL or digital!), schedules are more like guidelines than anything else!

Please make sure to add this email to your contacts to ensure you get all our messages, and also please follow the Dusty Multiverse social media accounts found at @dustymultiverse both on Instagram and Twitter – we will be putting out critical updates there first – but via email as well.

Please note that the Oculus Quest application is delayed, and will likely be published late Monday.  In the meantime the iOS and Android will be the only way to access the universe.

UPDATE Sept. 1st, 2020: The Multiverse app is now available, and I downloaded it to my iPhone to check it out. The app costs at least US$10.99 for seven days; there is also an option for you to sponsor other attendees at US$3.00 each. The default recommendation was $10.99 plus sponsoring ten others for a total cost of US$52.00! I think I’m going to wait until the Oculus Quest version is ready before I pay for it.

Build-a-Burn (on Topia)

Topia is a webcam app, which will be hosting something called Build-a-Burn. It is described as follows:

Build-A-Burn is an interactive digital space that has already hosted events, including fantastical remote Burns, all by empowering the community to celebrate their creativity. Using just a browser and webcam on any device, participants will be able to wander an art-filled playa with friends old and new. Prepare to bend the reality of time and space, authentically connect with others in facilitated workshops, stand too close to some of your favorite DJs, and more.

MetaBurn: The Bridge Experience

MetaBurn: The Bridge Experience is described as:

Created by the team behind the Love Burn, The Bridge Experience is an interactive, fully immersive, 3D web-based virtual reality (XR) Burn accessible via any device. It is a passion project built by new and old Burners who are committed to simplifying the barriers to entry by adjoining Extended Reality (XR) technology with the 10 Principles.

There’s not a lot of information available; it appears to be some sort of mobile/desktop/VR app which requires registration. Check their website for more details on how to get set up.

The Ethereal Empyrean Experience

The Ethereal Empyrean Experience is described as follows:

In late 2019, Burning Man Project selected “Empyrean” by Laurence “Renzo” Verbeck and Sylvia Adrienne Lisse to be the official Black Rock City Temple for 2020. As announced in the Burning Man Journal, “Empyrean was chosen for its lovely geometry and inclusive design, as well as for its strong leads and crew who have demonstrated the experience, integrity and feasibility necessary to create this unique space.”

Fast forward to Spring 2020, when it became clear the community would not be building Black Rock City this year. The Empyrean creators embraced the challenge, dedicating themselves to creating an inclusive, healing virtual Temple space where visitors can share, express, process, grieve, and heal during this transformative time. The result: the Ethereal Empyrean Experience, our 2020 virtual Temple.

Again, there’s frustratingly little actual information about how to access this. Here’s a five-minute preview of the virtual temple:

Burn Night: Live from Home

According to the webpage for this event:

After spending Burn Week exploring the marvels of the Multiverse, join us on September 5, 2020 for Burn Night: Live From Home

Wherever you live and however you choose to burn, you’re invited to connect with the global Burning Man community for a worldwide, around-the-clock Burn Night extravaganza! 

Create your burnable Mini Man effigy using our blueprint, or something from your own imagination. Then host a small Burn wherever you are, within your local COVID-safe limits, ignited time zone by time zone worldwide on Burning Man’s traditional Burn Night — September 5, 2020. You may choose to upload your Man Burn to our 24-hour live stream. These will all be streamed and shared in a portal with chat, so the entire Burning Man community can connect around our favorite fire for a full day and night of burns.


So, no matter whether you use a mobile device, your flatscreen notebook or desktop computer, or a VR headset, you can participate in Burning Man this year!

Black Rock City Animal Control members and Black Rock Scouts climb on a larger-than-life sculpture during Burning Man 2016. (Source: National Geographic)

Editorial: Upon Reflection…

Taking a much-needed break from blogging has given me an opportunity to reflect a bit on my journey over the past three years, and ponder where I might go from here.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Frankly, I never expected to become a journalist covering the ever-evolving metaverse, with a growing audience; this blog started off as a tiny little niche blog, where I wrote about my (mis)adventures and explorations in Sansar. And everything that happened after that—writing about more and more social VR platforms, hosting the Metaverse Newscast show, focusing on freebies in my beloved Second Life—just kind of happened organically. I didn’t have any sort of plan; I just made choices along the way that led to this point.

But for me, the seeds for this journey were first planted in Second Life 14 years ago, which since its earliest days has been this strange and marvelous phoenix that keeps rising from the ashes, again and again, confounding and bewildering many casual observers who continue to predict (wrongly) its failure. Even a cursory glance at the official Second Life Community News feed (curated by the highly capable Strawberry Linden) reveals the absolute torrent of creativity that the platform has provided to so many people. Second Life is not going anywhere, honey.

Source: My Dark Fantasy

SL is a fully-evolved, vibrant, mature virtual world which has become the model which other metaverse companies have spent countless programming hours and (in some cases) millions of dollars to try and recreate, with varying degrees of success.

I think that the ones that have been the most successful (so far) are NeosVR, ENGAGE, AltspaceVR, VRChat, Rec Room and, somewhat to my surprise, three blockchain-based worlds: Cryptovoxels, Decentraland, and Somnium Space. And there are many other platforms slowly but surely building up their business, taking advantage of the unexpected opportunities presented by the coronavirus pandemic (one example is Sinespace, a company which is patiently and cannily playing the long game, and which is extremely well-poised to snatch Second Life’s mantle, if and when it is ever dropped).


And, during my break, I have been also thinking a lot about Facebook/Oculus and their impact on virtual reality in general, and social VR in particular. I have decided that, despite my new, personal boycott of Facebook products and services, I will continue to write about their upcoming social VR platform, Facebook Horizon, as it launches in public beta, probably before the end of this year.

I, like many other people, now absolutely refuse to have a Facebook account as a matter of moral principle. In August of 2019 I wrote (and yes, it bears repeating at length here):

In this evolving metaverse of social VR and virtual worlds, is too much power concentrated in the hands of a single, monolithic, profit-obsessed company? I would argue that Facebook is aiming for complete and utter domination of the VR universe, just as they already have in the social networking space, by creating a walled ecosystem…that will have a negative impact on other companies trying to create and market VR apps and experiences. The field is already tilted too much in Facebook’s favour, and the situation could get worse.

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.

We can’t trust that Facebook is going to act in any interests other than its own profit. Facebook has way too much power, and governments around the world need to act in the best interests of their citizens in demanding that the company be regulated, even broken up if necessary.

Of course, Facebook is well within its corporate rights to insist that, henceforth, Oculus Go, Quest, and Rift users have to use Facebook accounts. Just as I am well within my rights to avoid providing another smidgen of personal data for Facebook to strip-mine for profit. It will be very interesting to see how more the consumer-privacy-oriented First World countries (such as Canada, and those countries within the European Union) will respond to the Facebook juggernaut.

I also have absolutely zero doubt that Facebook will continue to use every single lawyer, lobbyist, tool and tactic at its disposal to fight to maintain its market dominance, even as the Facebook social network continues to foster divisiveness, bleed users and lose advertisers. Believe me, Facebook would not have taken the unprecedented step of forcing Oculus device users to set up Facebook accounts if they weren’t afraid of losing the younger generations of users who have, thus far, resisted joining the social network their parents and grandparents belong to. (Of course, most of them are already on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.)

It is relatively easy to bypass the tethered Oculus Rift VR headset and its associated Oculus Store ecosystem with competing PCVR products and services (such as the Vive headsets, the Valve Index and Steam). However, it is difficult—frankly impossible at present—to find a non-Facebook alternative to the standalone Oculus Quest VR headset. I have no doubt that the market will throw up a few capable competitors to the Quest over time, but Facebook has built up a huge lead, and it will be very difficult to unseat from its dominance in that particular market segment.


So, as you can see, I have been doing quite a bit of thinking while I have hit the pause button on this blog. I will continue to spend the rest of my summer on my self-imposed vacation from this blog, and no doubt I will have other thoughts, insights and opinions to share with you when I return, hopefully feeling more refreshed.

I feel that with this blog, after a few stumbles and setbacks, I have finally found my voice, and you will continue to hear it over the next three years, and probably far beyond that! Enjoy the rest of your summer! I will be back in September.

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

UPDATED! Editorial: Facebook Announces That It Will Require All Oculus VR Headset Users to Have Facebook Accounts (and Why I Have Bought a Valve Index as My Next VR Headset)

I am angry. Make that furious. Let me tell you exactly why I am so angry.

Facebook dropped a bombshell announcement today:

Today, we’re announcing some important updates to how people log into Oculus devices, while still keeping their VR profile. Starting in October 2020:

■ Everyone using an Oculus device for the first time will need to log in with a Facebook account.

If you’re an existing user and already have an Oculus account, you’ll have the option to log in with Facebook and merge your Oculus and Facebook accounts.

If you’re an existing user and choose not to merge your accounts, you can continue using your Oculus account for two years.

After January 1, 2023, we will end support for Oculus accounts. If you choose not to merge your accounts at that time, you can continue using your device, but full functionality will require a Facebook account. We will take steps to allow you to keep using content you have purchased, though we expect some games and apps may no longer work. This could be because they include features that require a Facebook account or because a developer has chosen to no longer support the app or game you purchased. All future unreleased Oculus devices will require a Facebook account, even if you already have an Oculus account.

I have written on this blog, at length, about why I distrust Facebook and the reasons I first left the Facebook social network (here, here, here, and here). I would strongly suggest you reread them because I do not intend to rehash all my arguments here, again.

I only begrudgingly rejoined Facebook when it became clear that I would need a Facebook account to be able to use their forthcoming social VR platform, Facebook Horizon. At that time, I still naively felt that it was somehow important to include Facebook Horizon in what I hoped was going to be my continuing, comprehensive coverage of all social VR platforms on this blog.

But you know what? After today’s announcement by Facebook, I no longer feel the need to write about Facebook/Oculus products and services—and certainly not if it means letting Facebook strip-mine even more of my personal data than it already has to date. Enough is enough.

And so I have posted the following short update to my little-used, soon-to-be-deleted Facebook profile:

Today, Facebook announced that it will require *all* users of Oculus VR headsets (Rift, Quest) to create an account on the Facebook social network in order to use them. (Previous to this, you only had to create a Facebook account if you were using a few of their apps, such as Oculus Venues, or the upcoming Facebook Horizon social VR platform.)

Many of you already know that I quit Facebook (and asked them to delete all of the data it had collected on me) as my New Years resolution in December 2019. I only returned because I wanted to be able to write about Facebook Horizon, Facebook’s new social VR platform, when it launches later this year—and THAT required a Facebook account. So I rejoined, even though I have successfully broken my Facebook addiction and I rarely log in anymore.

Given today’s announcement, I have now changed my mind. I will be deleting my Facebook account again later this week, and I will no longer be buying any more VR apps from the Oculus Store. From now on, I will no longer be buying any Oculus VR headsets (my next VR headset will probably be a Valve Index).

I have had enough. This time, I am not coming back to Facebook. You can find me on Twitter (my handle is quiplash).

In addition, I will no longer be covering Facebook products and services on this blog. I now have zero intention of writing about Facebook Horizon, since after deleting my Facebook account, I will not be able to visit their social VR platform. Frankly, I no longer have any desire to see or participate in whatever Facebook is planning.

Also, I will no longer be purchasing any more VR apps from the Oculus Store, instead choosing to buy them from Steam (or directly from the developer, if possible).

I am currently the owner of an original Oculus Rift tethered VR headset (which I bought in January 2017), and an Oculus Quest standalone VR headset (which I bought as soon as they became available in May 2019). They’re well-made devices, which have not given me problems. But I can no longer in good conscience continue to support, in any way, the company that makes and sells them, from this day forward.

As Facebook has stated in their news release:

If you’re an existing user and choose not to merge your [Oculus and Facebook] accounts, you can continue using your Oculus account for two years.

And I intend to use that two-year window to sell or give away my Rift and Quest, and purchase only non-Oculus VR headset(s) from now on. At the moment, I am leaning towards the Valve Index, but we’ll see. I have time; a lot can change in two years. But I have checked and my computer is already powerful enough to run an Index:

My computer is already Valve Index ready!

UPDATE August 19th, 2020: 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.