If you keep up with VR and XR news, then you probably already know about the Quest 2 requirement of connecting your Oculus account to your Facebook account. In response, I released my previous article, where I covered the need for our industry to have a serious discussion concerning how we handle ethics, privacy, and protecting user’s data rights. Despite the criticism Oculus has received for this requirement, customers have recently found out that a Facebook ban could result in an unusable Quest 2, effectively rendering it a paperweight. As you can imagine, users like myself are not happy with this development.
If we don’t keep these companies in check, they’re going to get away with a lot of things. I believe the best way to combat moves that aren’t in our interest as consumers is awareness. And awareness needs to come from the public, because without the public, without the consumer, without the people, and without their money, large tech companies wouldn’t exist.
The Paperweight Phenomenon Explained
When Facebook announced that you needed to integrate your Oculus account with your Facebook account, there was a huge outrage in the community, and for good reason. For starters, Facebook said they would never do something like that. There are several people, including myself, that simply don’t trust Facebook with our data. It isn’t outlandish to assume that a set of people have already created fake Facebook profiles to bypass this issue or plan to do so in the future.
Unfortunately, this solution is no longer feasible. A fake profile raises flags, and if you connect it to your Oculus account, your headset will become useless and essentially a paperweight. The reasoning for the bans can be traced back to the Cambridge Analytica data debacle. Back in 2016, the Russians hacked Facebook and had access to a ton of information, which happened because they were able to make fake Facebook profiles.
Shoving Conditions Down Your Throat
I was excited when I pre-ordered the Quest 2 on the day of launch. Facebook gave consumers two options: people who currently have an Oculus account get grandfathered in and can use the Oculus ecosystem until 2023, or they can integrate their profiles. What I didn’t know about and what I didn’t see coming, was that if you got a Quest 2, regardless if you had an Oculus account in the past, you still had to merge your account with Facebook. Forcing me to register my Oculus account with Facebook and not having the option to use only the Oculus account until 2023 is a huge problem for me.
I get it. Facebook owns Oculus, it’s their product, and they can do what they want with it. However, when a company releases a product to the world, it’s not only about them; it’s about the customers.
Yes, the Quest 2 is a great product. It’s innovative, changing the VR industry, and it’s increasing mass adoption because of its lower price tag. The Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ XR2 processor is impressive. Despite these positives, you would think that the negative backlash would make them reconsider the merge. But take a couple of steps back, and ask yourself, is Facebook really losing money on this in the long run? The answer is no. Facebook is ok with taking a loss right now. Why? Well, imagine all the data they’re collecting that is going to pay 100 times forward. Take a look at the Oculus data policy: they collect physical features, content, cookies and similar technologies, interactions, environmental, dimensions, movement, and more. At the end of the day, it’s data that belongs to you.
History Repeats Itself
Companies like Facebook, Google, or other large tech businesses have gotten too big. We saw this happen in the 90s when Microsoft went through an anti-trust lawsuit with the United States government for being a monopoly. Tiny companies in their garages would be working away, and Microsoft would come along and say ‘join us, or we’re going to annihilate you.’ Facebook is doing the same thing.
These tech companies get so big and powerful that it leaves their leadership with two options: collecting more and more power in an attempt to satisfy their ego or become humble with the power that has been given and help humanity evolve. If the goal is innovation, then XR companies shouldn’t focus on just themselves; they should focus on serving the greater good.
Putting a Stall in Innovation…
Facebook is placing boundaries and restrictions, and the consequence of that is the obstruction of innovation. I believe mass adoption will slow to a crawl. Perhaps as someone who works in the industry, I’m a bit jaded. Maybe the average user doesn’t care. People are lazy and would sometimes rather not think (including me). We all have our stresses and our day-to-day obstacles, so we don’t want to think about the big picture and would rather focus on what’s right in front of us.
… Or Kickstarting Innovation?
Before you lament about the future of the VR industry, keep in mind that restricting a product can unexpectedly open the door to opportunity for innovation. For instance, Palmer Luckey, the inventor of the Oculus headset who was kicked out by Facebook due to political ties, is currently matching the $5,000 reward to anyone who can jailbreak the Quest 2.
There’s also SideQuest, where you can sideload apps. SideQuest doesn’t promote piracy; rather, it promotes innovation because you don’t have restrictions. Developers can do more things and go outside Facebook’s parameters. While Facebook is one of the first companies to have VR headsets, I don’t think they will be key players. They may have key titles, but at the end of the day, big competitors are going to emerge. Right now, Facebook is the big dog on the block, but their ‘our tech, our rules’ stance will eventually make them less competitive.
Changing Our Ways Through Education
I like to compare the discussion around data privacy and rights to global warming. We’ve made a huge environmental impact that we probably won’t recover from for a very long time unless we change our ways as a society and as human beings. We can start doing that through education. Education gives people a level of awareness that teaches and inspires them to deal with issues and move forward. The future of the XR industry will benefit from such an awakening, as will today’s consumers, so it’s up to each and every one of us to make our voices heard.