Meta is super excited to show off its brand-new virtual reality (VR) headset at its annual Connect Conference tomorrow – but it’s likely they’ll be sticking very close to the script and not bring up any unpleasantries.

It can be assumed that CEO Mark Zuckerberg will be hoping to get through the event without someone asking a question about literally any of the multiple setbacks and challenges facing Meta.

Meta has been suffering some major issues over the past year. Whether it’s the falling numbers of users on the once dominating social media giant Facebook, the accusations of prioritising profit over children’s safety or just the Zuck’s strange MMA video – it hasn’t been the best of times for the company.

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After spending over $10bn on the metaverse alone last year, the need for Meta to show off a really decent headset at their annual Connect Conference has never been more vital for the company.

While sales of the Meta Quest have been respectable, beating out other companies in 2021, it hasn’t hit the “everyone logged into a second digital world” level yet. Meta is far from ready to realise the world of Ready Player One.

Reviews for the Zuck’s Horizon Worlds VR social game continue to be mediocre at best too – with heavily reported complaints claiming it looks straight out of a 2007 Nintendo Wii game.

It’s clear the metaverse vision is still a long way off from being fully formed.

Alas, Meta is hoping to excite consumers at its Connect Conference with the next VR headset and will have their fingers crossed no one brings up anything unpalatable.

So wouldn’t it be a shame if someone raised five topics that Meta don’t want to talk about during the Connect Conference?

Facebook’s user count is dwindling

Users on Facebook have been decreasing for some time now. According to research from Similarweb, Facebook lost a whopping 12% of traffic in May 2022 compared to the previous year.

Since 2019, monthly visits to the social media giant have dropped by almost four billion.

The rise of TikTok hasn’t helped Facebook’s user count at all. Gone are the days of teenagers being interested in feeble Facebook poke wars. The younger demographic has been hooked by the content-driven algorithm TikTok’s nailed so well.

Instagram head Adam Mosseri caused a bit of a stir at the end of June when he announced Instagram was “no longer just a photo-sharing app”.

The announcement of more “content-driven algorithms” was a clear attempt to copy TikTok and try to snatch some of the Gen-Z engagement.

Instagram has done a better job of gripping on to it, but Facebook has embarrassingly failed to match up at all.

Mark Zuckerberg has spent a lot on the metaverse already

Zuck loves the metaverse nearly as much as he loves going live on Facebook and awkwardly talking about smoked meats. Yes, he actually did that.

But almost a decade on from the uncomfortable cookout, the CEO spent a whopping $10bn on the metaverse last year. That’s a lot more expensive than some smoked meat and it would’ve been worth it if the results of that investment would’ve been impressive.

However, impressive isn’t the word people seem to be using to describe Meta’s metaverse right now. Horizon Worlds, a free video game developed by Meta and just one of the many VR hubs the company envisions in the future, has been mocked endlessly online.

An in-game selfie of a barely-rendered Mark Zuckerberg caused a strong mainstream barrage of Meta’s VR world, with many gamers comparing it to older and cheaply made games like Second World, VR Chat and Rec Rooms.

One Twitter user slammed the game: “Barely anyone uses it. Worlds look like Rec Room only crappier. Plenty of other apps do metaverse better than this. Don’t even waste your time with downloading this.”

Another wrote: “Sorry, Meta, but Horizon Worlds sucks. I’ve used it on several different occasions. The graphics are bad, the world interaction is bad, the UI is bad, the majority of environments have no visitors. I want VR to succeed, but what you’ve built here is awful.”

And, as we recently found out ourselves, the live events where Meta has attempted to demonstrate its cutting edge technology have been woefully underwhelming.

Apple and Google are causing Meta a heap of trouble

Zuckerberg is not happy with Apple. His displeasure with the tech wonks over at Cupertino is understandable considering they’ve already contributed to shaving hundreds billions of dollars off Meta’s valuation.

The massive blow to the social media giant came when the iPhone manufacturer announced new privacy features in their iOS 14 updates named App Tracking Transparency.

This stops firms like Facebook from tracking people through iPhone identifiers, which Facebook says is now harming the accuracy of the ads, as a lack of data makes it more difficult to target specific iPhones.

Following the firm earning report at the beginning of the year, Meta CFO Dave Wehner said: “We believe the impact of iOS overall is a headwind on our business in 2022.

“It’s on the order of $10bn, so it’s a pretty significant headwind for our business.”

Apple’s cosy deal with Google is also been in the firing line of Meta. The company alleged that Alphabet‘s Google, which also sells personalised ads on iPhones, are having an easier time with Apple’s new policies as it is the default search engine on the Safari browser, meaning the ads appear in more places.

Project Cambria probably won’t bring VR to the mainstream

Back in 2017, Mark Zuckerberg told a room full of people that he wanted to bring VR to a billion users. Five years on, VR headsets are used by less than 200 million people worldwide.

Project Cambria, Meta’s new high-powered VR headset, is set to be announced at Connect Conference. It will be the company’s latest effort at bringing that very optimistic goal closer to reality. It will very likely address issues many have with VR at the moment, like discomfort and nausea after prolonged use.

But Rupantar Guha, analyst at GlobalData, says although the improvements may make for a better user experience, there will still be challenges persisting for Meta and VR.

“Zuckerberg announced that Project Cambria would deliver a ‘social presence’ with improved display resolution, eye tracking, facial recognition, and passthrough mixed reality,” Guha told Verdict. “While these technologies could add value to end users, data privacy concerns will persist.”

Data privacy concerns will most likely not be quelled by Meta during their presentation – in fact, a more advanced headset will likely just strengthen them.

“In a single recommended 20-minute session in VR, a headset can generate approximately two million data points and unique recordings of body language,” Jeremy Greenberg, policy counsel at Future of Privacy Forum, wrote in their 2021 report.

“Immersive tech can track huge quantities of highly sensitive information, creating both lucrative opportunities for businesses and a wide spectrum of privacy and reputational risks to users.”

Meta is unlikely to talk about the growing regulatory scrutiny during the Connect Conference

The fifth topic Meta is unlikely to discuss during the Connect Conference has to do with the growing regulatory scrutiny.

Over the better part of the last decade, Meta has been accused of skewing the results of everything from the Brexit referendum to presidential elections.

At the same time, Meta’s different platforms have been accused of being haven for conspiracy theories and fake news. Despite its best efforts, the company has so far failed to clean up its image and get rid of fake news entirely.

Traditionally, these allegations have meant that liberal commentators have voiced concerns about social media platforms and encouraged lawmakers to introduce tougher rules about how they can be run. Now they are getting support from the other side of the political spectrum.

Following the riot on Capitol Hill in 2021, several conservative talking heads, including defenestrated US president Donald Trump, were ejected from several social media platforms for their role in the lead-up to the insurrection.

In response, right-wing commentators and politicians are now accusing Meta and its peers of silencing conservative voices. Again, this has resulted in demands for tougher rules.

Whistleblower Frances Haugen’s allegations that Meta is prioritising profits over children’s safety have also drummed up demands for more regulations in the US.

Across the pond, the European Council gave the Digital Service Act its final approval earlier in October. The new law will mean that social media companies will be held accountable for the content on their platform to a higher degree.

GlobalData is the parent company of Verdict and its sister publications.