Ever since Facebook bought Oculus, it’s been obvious Facebook would mandate integration with its own products and services, regardless of whether anyone wanted it or not. That day has come.
According to a new blog post at Oculus, beginning in 2020, all new users must log in with a Facebook account. If you are an existing user on an already-purchased device, you may log in with Facebook and merge with an Oculus account. If you are an existing user with an existing device and you choose not to merge your account, you can continue using your Oculus account for another two years until January 1, 2023, at which point Facebook will end all support for Oculus accounts. The company claims you can continue using your device but that “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.”
Best case: Long, slow decline into irrelevance. Worst-case? Official neutrality but low-level sabotage to keep it as difficult as possible to remain outside the Facebook ecosystem.
From a privacy perspective, I’m not sure how much this shift matters. Facebook owns Oculus, which means Facebook owns Oculus’ data. I never paid attention to any of Facebook’s promises about how it would respect or treat Oculus customers’ data, because it seemed safe to assume the company would treat it exactly the same way it treats all data: contemptuously, as a resource to be strip-mined for profit. It’s been used for advertising since late 2019, so the ship has sailed on that issue.
So why is Facebook doing this, if it already has the data? Because VR is social, you see. “We know that social VR has so much more to offer, and this change will make it possible to integrate many of the features people know and love on Facebook,” writes “Oculus.” Specifically, you can live stream VR gameplay to Facebook, make phone calls, join events, and “explore new experiences like Facebook Horizon.”
Facebook Horizon is the company’s answer to services like Second Life, but for VR. Using Facebook already feels like playing the world’s shittiest MMO where you fight tooth and claw with internet strangers instead of downing bosses, and the only loot is ennui. You know how to make Second Life worse? Call it: “Second Life, Powered by Facebook.” You know how to get me excited about raiding Molten Core in World of Warcraft? Offer me the alternative of spending five hours on Facebook. I may not excited about extended surveys of the color brown in volcanic contexts, but I’ll take it in a heartbeat.
It’s not that I think Facebook is incapable of making improvements to VR, it’s that none of those improvements are going to come from anything Facebook is doing here. Theoretically, investing in a software ecosystem to make it easier to create and share VR video could be a useful service, but are we going to see VR content centered as part of Mixer or any kind of Oculus-centric content strategy? Or will Facebook just offer you a button to “share clip” on Facebook and put VR video in your already-existing content stream?
What Facebook has done is ensure that “Mandatory Facebook integration” will be listed as a negative on every single Oculus headset review going forward. It’s literally already happened. My onetime colleague, Ben Kuchera, has written an article about Oculus and VR today. Much of it is an extended recommendation for the Oculus Quest. I also really enjoy the Quest and would echo many of his points. So what’s his number one reason for not buying a Quest?
Removing Oculus branding and integration isn’t going to make gamers like Facebook, so much as remind them they could be doing business with somebody else. It literally took a pandemic to move Facebook Portal units. How’s that for a slogan? “Facebook Portal: For When It’s Down to Unemployment, Total Isolation, or Us”
This is horseshit. Our company will not buy another Oculus product. I absolutely will not force my staff to have facebook accounts to do client work.
— Gord (@ASITP_Gord) August 18, 2020
Developers do not want to be associated with Facebook. Users do not want to be associated with Facebook. Users are aware, generally speaking, that they’ve been hooked on using a product created by a company with absolutely no concern beyond serving its own bottom line and Mark Zuckerberg’s myopic vision of connectivity at any cost. Facebook integration is privacy poison. Whether or not its good for business depends on whether Facebook sees you as a threat.
The chances that the VR user community receives this as a positive are nil, and while Oculus has had a strong position in the PC VR market to date, it’s scarcely an unassailable lead. Facebook will make mandatory integration a requirement on the updated Oculus Quest it’s rumored to be planning for later this year, so hopefully, enthusiasts will figure out how to bypass the requirement in the (presumably) Android OS the hardware will ship with and allow sideloading of apps and games without Facebook’s dubious value-add.
I’d sooner pay for Google Stadia — a service I expect Google to cancel within 36 months — than pretend that Facebook can be trusted with new data from any source.
There’s a seeming contradiction in my stance. Why would I say that the privacy issues haven’t really changed, but then change my stance on Oculus? My reasoning is this: Up until now, yes, Facebook had your Oculus data, but it still had to go to some effort to read and sort that data into whatever database formats it uses, and it had to cross-associate it with Facebook accounts. Now, it will have all that of that information in a merged format, under a single manager, and ready to make further cross-associations with whatever additional information the company has decided it will now gather, either now or at some point in the future. For now, Facebook is making it much easier to sort and understand data. In the future, they’ll undoubtedly come up with new ways of monetizing it.
I’m done pretending they won’t.