Earlier this week a story in The New York Times citing an anonymous source claimed Facebook’s eventual plan for Oculus was to turn the company’s VR device into a Facebook machine. The social networking giant was quick to deny the rumors, but that’s no guarantee we won’t see that actually happen. With this $2 billion acquisition, Mark Zuckerberg is betting that virtual reality will be the next big thing after mobile, and the possibility that Facebook could control that platform—or even a large chunk of it—really scares me.
I’m not alone. The entire Internet is still freaking out following the announcement, and on TechnoBuffalo we’ve run several articles trying to make sense of the unexpected merger. A post written by Brandon Russell focused mostly on the positives, pointing to the unlimited potential of virtual reality technology combined with Facebook’s cash pile. “Ads won’t get pushed into your virtual eyeballs,” Brandon argued. It seems likely that’s the first thing the company will do once it’s turned Oculus VR into a popular platform – at least if you consider its business model as a whole, which is to put ads in front of as many eyeballs as possible. Honestly, that’s the least of my worries though. I agree with Brandon that the potential for good is exciting, but I still think the negatives outweigh the positives.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) March 26, 2014
Another post penned by two members of TechnoBuffalo‘s gaming department features a debate over the implications of the deal for the future of video games. After reading the article I’m siding with Joey Davidson, who summed up the entire issue with a single sentence, writing: “We, as gamers, don’t want something as pure and original as Oculus VR mixing in with Facebook.” The implication of course, is that Facebook isn’t pure in its goals and intentions. Later, Joey imagines a VR gaming experience “riddled with ads, feature forced and haphazard design updates,” adding that Facebook’s “principles” are a turn off for much of the gaming community.
The same logic applies to everything else Facebook hopes to do with Oculus’ technology. Facebook has already expanded successfully into mobile, where about 48 percent of its total users access the social network, and now the company wants to dominate virtual reality. If Zuckerberg is correct, and the technology does take off, Facebook will be perfectly positioned to control the hardware and software we may soon be strapping to our faces on a regular basis. That’s assuming that the company backpedals on its promise to let Oculus operate independently, but it’s still possible.
I promise not to get all post-apocalyptic here, but Facebook should not be the company to control virtual reality. Especially if this really is the future. This is a company that does everything it can to create a closed-off section of the Internet all for itself, and tries to convince emerging markets new to the Internet that Facebook is all you need. Zuckerberg already tracks my every move across the Internet and hits me with new ads when I return to his website. Can you imagine what that experience might be like when it’s attached to your face?
You might be thinking: so just don’t buy an Oculus then and quit complaining! That’s a fair point, and to be honest I’m more likely to pick up Sony’s Project Morpheus to go with my PS4. Even so, Oculus Rift is an amazing product and I’d hate to see it ruined by Facebook, or clogged up with ads beyond recognition. Competition is good for any industry, and Sony’s VR technology won’t be at its best without a decent rival in Oculus.
Sure, in the short term Facebook’s new partnership with Oculus sounds fine, even good. Zuckerberg’s promised to let the small startup operate independently while helping to ramp up production and eventually expand from gaming into other areas like education, and there’s no indication that we’ll see the Oculus Rift transformed into a virtual Newsfeed. In the long run though, beaming targeted ads straight into your eyeballs may just be the beginning of Facebook’s plan for virtual reality – and that terrifies me.