Credit where credit is due: The Meta Quest virtual reality platform, previously known as Oculus Quest, will soon remove its obnoxious Facebook account mandate. As announced on Thursday, starting in August, both new and existing Quest headset users will be able to use the system’s default operating system and digital download store without tying their “real-name” social media accounts to the service.
This is a good course correction of a bad decision. In 2020, I wrote at length about the dangers of VR’s “Facebookening,” which arose when the Quest VR platform dumped its existing Oculus account system in favor of required Facebook accounts. This decision forced a cross-pollination between VR headsets and years of social media posts and messages, including the cookies and metadata from connected sites and services. It demanded a level of “real name” compliance that we’ve never seen from other major Western computing devices and operating systems.
Worse, the move tacitly threatened anyone wanting to sidestep the rules by creating a dummy Facebook account. Facebook famously disallows aliases and fake names, and while it doesn’t check for ID at account creation, it can lock accounts at any time if it detects “suspicious” activity. To unlock an account, the company will usually request some form of “official” photo identification. If someone converted their Oculus account to a name like “Guy Incognito” and got stuck in a lockdown state, Facebook was well within its rights (granted by its terms of service) to keep the account and all its associated software purchases locked away.
Awaiting a better look at FB decoupling
As announced, the new “Meta Account” system will correct some of these most glaring issues. But will it be enough?
It’s hard to definitively answer this question. First, the new account system hasn’t gone live, so we can’t test one crucial aspect of the change. According to Meta, anyone who switched from an Oculus account to a Facebook-tied identity will be able to decouple all Facebook identity information while creating a new Meta Account starting in August.
We want to see what this update looks like: how software-purchase transfers will work, what notices may appear on affected Facebook accounts after the transfer, and how aggressive the company will be about asking Quest users if they’re really sure they want to sever Facebook from their headset experience. (Meta has already indicated that it will let users attach Facebook and Instagram credentials if they want.) Facebook representatives have not answered our questions about these concerns as of press time.
There’s also the matter of exactly what traces of Facebook user data may remain. This week, we’re still reeling from a well-placed allegation, attached to a lawsuit, about Facebook’s official policy to “undelete” seemingly deleted account data when requested by law enforcement agencies. A Meta spokesperson said the claims were “without merit,” but even if that’s true, we already know that Facebook has made users’ sensitive data available to bidders and openly manipulated social media experiences for the sake of experiments. Facebook is in the business of harvesting as much user data as possible and keeping all relevant user records available for as long as possible—so much so that we’ve yet to find clarification about Facebook data decoupling from Meta accounts in any of the company’s new ToS disclosures unveiled this week.