September 4, 2020

Facebook pauses Oculus sales in Germany

By Ellen Daniel

Facebook has stopped sales of the Oculus Rift and Oculus Quest virtual reality headsets in Germany.

Facebook, which acquired Oculus for $2bn in 2014, announced last month that new users will only be able to log onto their Oculus devices using a Facebook account from October, with existing users required to use Facebook logins from January 2023.

Users who choose not to merge their accounts will still be able to use their headset after January 2023, but “full functionality will require a Facebook account”, according to a tweet from Oculus.

In a statement, the company said: “We have temporarily paused selling Oculus devices to consumers in Germany. We will continue supporting users who already own an Oculus device and we’re looking forward to resuming sales in Germany soon.”

It also told Germany news site Heise Online that this was due to “upcoming discussions with German regulatory authorities”.

The Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information told the publication that the decision to require users to have a Facebook account to login to Oculus is “legally extremely questionable”.

The decision to require Oculus users to link their account to a Facebook account has received backlash from some Oculus users, with many voicing privacy concerns. One user said “I no longer trust Oculus”.

This is despite Oculus founder Palmer Luckey promising in 2016 that Oculus users would not need a Facebook account.

“A worrying development”

Ray Walsh, digital privacy expert at ProPrivacy said that the move by Facebook was a “worrying development”.

“The concept that consumers must agree to link their identity to a device in order to own it is a worrying development, especially for those people who already own a device and will eventually be forced to provide their Facebook identity,” he said.

“Regulators in Germany are right to question the legality of this move, consumers should be allowed to own a device without linking it to Facebook. Forcing users to be part of a social ecosystem is not necessary for the purposes of playing the vast majority of games, and those who wish to play games without social networking should be free to do so.”

Walsh believes that the move is driven by a desire to access more data.

“It seems clear that Facebook is using its market-leading position within the VR industry to bully users into providing data about themselves. Just how much data Facebook is harvesting from headsets is a grey area, but it is clear that the headsets, which have the ability to map people’s homes, have a vast potential for accumulating a wealth of data about users and their homes,” he said.

“VR is an emerging sector that is gaining a lot of momentum, and it is clear that Facebook is laying the groundwork to ensure that VR users are monitored in such a way that everything they do in the virtual world can be used to target them in real life.

“The danger for users is that the small amount of data Facebook currently claims to collect from headsets will be widened in the future; with the emergence of social VR platforms such as Facebook Horizons. These will create the perfect ecosystem for gathering data about users in all sorts of problematic ways.”

Read more: Facebook doesn’t want the original Oculus VR fans – and its account requirement shows it.