September 22, 2020

Facebook Halts Oculus Sales in Germany Over Privacy Concerns

Facebook’s decision to force Oculus members to sign up for or use existing Facebook accounts...

Facebook’s decision to force Oculus members to sign up for or use existing Facebook accounts hasn’t just played poorly with the community, but it may also be illegal in some European countries.

Facebook says it has taken this step voluntarily, not because it’s in hot water with German authorities.”This is a temporary break due to outstanding talks with German supervisory authorities,” the company said in a statement to Heise.de. “We were not obliged to take this measure, but proactively interrupted the sale.”

The reason Oculus is halting its sales, proactively or otherwise, is because of concerns that its requirement to use a Facebook account in order to also play with an Oculus Rift violates the EU’s “coupling ban” rule. EU law states that: “[T]he performance of a contract may not be made dependent upon the consent to process further personal data, which is not needed for the performance of that contract.”

Oculus Rift and Touch

You know, the name “Rift” is starting to seem like unintentional humor.

Put differently: Companies are not allowed to require individuals to turn over their individual data in order to access a good or service that does not rely on that data in the first place. According to the Hamburg Comissioner for Data and Protection, “the obligation to create a Facebook account is legally extremely questionable, at least for those who have already bought a headset. Whether this also applies to new customers is definitely a matter of debate. That should largely depend on the design of the contract, which we do not have.” He notes that this becomes a burden on both new and old Facebook customers and indicates the comission views the requirement with a gimlet eye.

If you heard rumors that Oculus was now Facebook Reality Labs, it’s not true, but there’s been a bit of an internal shuffle. Facebook now groups Oculus under its “Reality Labs” brand. But while Facebook hasn’t changed Oculus’ name, it has renamed the VR conference from ‘Oculus Connect’ to ‘Facebook Connect.’

Oculus seems to think they can weather the Facebook switchover storm without losing any ground with ordinary consumers. I genuinely don’t know about that, but the response from fans, press, and game creators to the takeover has been vitriolic. I don’t know who I’d recommend as a replacement vendor for VR at the moment — not because there aren’t competitors, but because most of them are quite expensive and I haven’t spent time with the headsets. The aggressive move to rebrand Oculus suggests Facebook isn’t interested in PC VR long-term. Yes, Oculus will technically still exist (as a Facebook brand), but Oculus Connect told you exactly what it was about: virtual reality. Facebook Connect sounds like a general seminar on social media.

If you’re currently interested in VR but don’t want to drop $1,000 on a Valve Index, my advice is to wait and see what the Sony PlayStation 5 brings to the table in that department. Sony has actually invested quite a bit of time and energy into VR, and the company is expected to release a new, upgraded VR headset at some point in the PlayStation 5 lifecycle. On the PC side, where the HTC Vive doesn’t really offer a low-cost option, it was Oculus’ game to lose. Hopefully another company will pick up the torch.

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