The day is here some VR enthusiasts feared would arrive when Facebook acquired Oculus VR in 2014 for billions of dollars as “Facebook will now use information about your Oculus activity, like which apps you use, to help provide…more relevant content, including ads” — assuming you’ve connected your Oculus ID to your Facebook account.
The announcement from the ad giant follows a wave of positive sentiment for its VR products built on the company’s release of the Oculus Link connection gifting some Quest buyers a PC VR headset, and the addition this week of controller-free hand tracking that allows operation of the standalone headset ahead of broader app and game support.
Facebook is in transition as the organization employs more than 43,000 people as of September, a 28 percent increase of the year prior according to its most recent earnings report, while consolidating major acquisitions like Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus under its broader efforts to connect people worldwide and “defy distance”. Externally, the company run by Mark Zuckerberg faces intense scrutiny from politicians and mainstream journalism organizations for its role in elections.
“These changes won’t affect third-party apps and games, and they won’t affect your on-device data,” according to the company.
How did we get here?
For years now, buyers of Facebook VR headsets needed an Oculus ID to operate the system that could be optionally connected to your “Facebook identity” — in other words, you could connect the two accounts.
More recently, to access certain features like concerts in Venues, Facebook started requiring the use of the Facebook account. According to the company’s terms, this account “must…use the same name that you use in everyday life.”
With this most recent change “If you choose not to log into Facebook on Oculus, we won’t share data with Facebook to allow third parties to target advertisements to you based on your use of the Oculus Platform,” according to Facebook.
But denying that connection may also make it difficult to connect with others using virtual reality on Oculus systems. Facebook contends its policy will “help people build their VR communities, while keeping them safer at scale.” In September at Facebook’s OC6 VR developers conference we got an early look at its new Horizon network with tools to block and report people with Facebook accounts shown as a cornerstone of the service.
“You still will use your Oculus ID,” Meaghan Fitzgerald, head of product marketing for AR/VR content at Facebook, told us at the time. “Your name in Horizon is your Oculus identity, but we do require a linked Facebook account.”
Now people will be be prompted to use the Facebook account for “existing social features like joining parties, adding friends, and visiting other people’s Homes” and Facebook accounts are now tied to services listed below through Oculus VR headsets:
- “Chats, so you can message your Oculus friends in or out of the headset with quick responses to hop into games together”
- “Join your friends in VR directly from any device with links that open to where your friends are within an app, and see the most popular destinations where people are playing in VR”
- “User-created Events, so you can organize meetups or multiplayer games with friends”
- “Share photos, videos, and livestreaming to Facebook, allowing you to share your favorite moments to Facebook Groups from VR”
- “Parties that any of your Oculus friends can join (previously parties were only invite-only)”
- “Messenger friends can easily join you in VR when you send them links to join you where you’re playing”
You’ll still maintain a separate Oculus username, profile and friends list, according to the company, whether you log into the Facebook account or not. Facebook:
“You can choose whether you want to add your Facebook friends as your Oculus friends automatically (depending on their settings), and you control who can see your Facebook real name on Oculus. You will always be able to choose what information you post to your Facebook profile or timeline, either by giving permission to post or by updating your privacy settings.”
About those ads
Facebook suggests that for those who log into the account it will target “relevant content” based around “Oculus activity” including “which apps you use” with examples given including “Oculus Events you might like to attend or ads for VR apps available on the Oculus Store.”
The company says this “won’t affect your on-device data” which, based on our previous reporting, Facebook says is the location where “3D maps of your environment” are kept.
“We don’t collect and store images or 3D maps of your environment on our servers today — images are not stored anywhere, and 3D maps are stored locally on the headset [for Quest] and on your local PC, where you have access to delete it [for Rift S],” a Facebook representative originally wrote in an email.
In reference to this newest change we specifically asked a Facebook representative to confirm whether our previous reporting still stands. We asked if it is true that “Facebook servers never receive information collected from VR headsets about what is in a person’s home to target ads against?”
The answer is “nothing is changing with regards to on-device data. It’s still stored locally on headsets and is not used to target ads.”
Facebook says the changes “won’t affect third-party apps and games” and “if you choose not to log into Facebook on Oculus, we won’t share data with Facebook to allow third parties to target advertisements to you based on your use of the Oculus Platform.”
Facebook provided some prepared questions and answers regarding the changes that we are republishing in full below:
Q: If I choose to log into Facebook on Oculus, what information is shared between Oculus and Facebook?
A: If you log into Facebook on Oculus, Facebook will use information related to your profile, presence, and activity on the Oculus Platform to provide and improve your product experience across the Facebook family of apps. This information is also shared to provide you with more relevant content, including ads.
Here are examples of the information shared between Oculus and Facebook when you choose to log into Facebook:
- The VR apps you use, so we can recommend new apps you haven’t tried yet
- Your Facebook friend list, so you can join your Facebook friends who are also on Oculus in VR if you choose to
- Invites and acceptances for events you create
- Information like your name and messaging metadata for chats in Oculus, so that Facebook can send those messages
- Your photos and related content like captions, likes and comments if you use the “share photos” feature to share photos from VR to your Facebook Timeline
- Information about your Oculus activity, like which apps you use, to show you ads for other VR apps you may like
Q: Why is the policy updating to share data between Oculus and Facebook to inform ads for people who are logged into Facebook?
A: Over time, we’ll be launching more social features on the Oculus platform powered by Facebook to make our VR ecosystem more social. Some of your information will be shared between Oculus and Facebook so we can build better experiences like the ones above. We also want to make it easier for people to find VR-related groups on Facebook to join, or for developers to show ads for VR apps to the right people.
Q: Can I choose not to share information about my Oculus activity with Facebook to be used for ads?
Q: Can I choose not to share information about my Oculus activity with Facebook at all?
A: Regardless of whether you log into Facebook on Oculus, Oculus will still share some information with Facebook to provide a consistent and safe experience across platforms, for example, if an Oculus account is flagged for spam or abuse.
Q: If I have already logged into Facebook from my Oculus account, is anything changing with respect to what information will be shared with Facebook?
A: Yes. Facebook and Oculus will use information about your account and your use of Oculus to provide, improve and secure these new social features. Facebook will also use your Oculus information to show you more personalized content, including ads, on and off Facebook company products, like Facebook and Instagram.
Q: Where can I find more information on privacy and data policies for Facebook and Oculus?
Q: What social features does Facebook provide on Oculus?
A: Here are a few examples, with more to come:
- Chats, so you can message your Oculus friends in or out of the headset with quick responses to hop into games together
- User created events, so you can organize tournaments or multiplayer games with friends
- Livestreaming to Facebook Groups from VR
- Sharing photos to Facebook Groups from VR
- Creating open parties that any of your Oculus friends can join
- Adding your Facebook friends on Oculus
Q: Can I log out of Facebook from Oculus if I have already logged in?
A: Yes. You can log out of Facebook on Oculus at any time in Oculus settings on both desktop or mobile.
Q: Do I need to log into Facebook on Oculus again if I am already logged in?
A: No, but if you are already logged into Facebook on Oculus, we will present you with an information screen and confirm that you’d like to stay logged in.
Q: What happens if I don’t have a Facebook account?
A: Oculus is owned by Facebook and is part of the Facebook family of apps and services. You will be asked to log into Facebook on Oculus to use first-party social features. However, if you do not have a Facebook account, you will still be able to access other apps and features, including a wide range of third-party social experiences, by creating an account and signing in with email.
Q: Will Oculus automatically post about my Oculus activity to Facebook without my permission?
A: You will always be able to choose what information you post to your Facebook profile or timeline, either by giving permission to post or by updating your privacy settings.
Q: Where do I go to learn more about and manage my privacy settings?
A: You can visit My Privacy Center to learn more about your Oculus privacy settings and how and where to change them, view your information, download your information, and delete your Oculus account.
You can update and manage your privacy settings in the Oculus application on your computer if you have an Oculus Rift or Rift S and on the Oculus mobile app if you have an Oculus Quest, Go or Gear VR, as well as in your Oculus headset for all devices.
You can also learn more about your Facebook privacy settings and data rights and how to exercise them in the Facebook Data Policy and through your Facebook settings.
Q: Are developers affected by this change?
A: Developers don’t need to make changes to their apps. Social or multiplayer games and experiences provided by third-party developers will not be affected, and people will continue to be able to access those services without logging into Facebook on Oculus.
Q: What information about my friends do you share with apps?
A: We share information that you and your friend have the same social or multi-player app, so that you can play together.
Q: Will my Facebook friends automatically become my Oculus friends?
A: Not unless you choose to. After you log into Facebook on Oculus, you will be able to see a list of your Facebook friends who also have Oculus accounts, depending on their privacy settings. You can then choose who you want to invite to become your friend on Oculus.
You can also choose to automatically sync your Facebook friends who also have Oculus accounts and who also have automatic syncing turned on. To turn it on, navigate to “Connected Accounts” in your account settings to turn this feature on. Automatic syncing is turned off by default.
Q: Will my Oculus friend list and my Facebook friend list become one combined list?
A: Oculus will not combine your Facebook and Oculus friends lists. You’ll still have one friends list for your Oculus friends that appears in the Oculus headset and Oculus app, and a separate one for your Facebook friends. Oculus friends can’t see your Facebook profile or activity unless you separately add them as friends on Facebook.
Q: Will you show my real name from Facebook to my friends on Oculus without my permission?
A: People on Oculus will only be able to find your Facebook real name if you enable this option in your privacy settings.
Q: Is information from my use of social features on Oculus, like my friend list and chats, saved after I log out of Facebook?
A: If you log out of Facebook, we will keep data from your use of social features for 90 days. If you log back into Facebook within 90 days of logging out, you will be able to restore information about your use of social features.