On Wednesday, Facebook announced its intentions to start testing targeted ads within its Oculus virtual reality platform. The decision sparked a massive discussion in online communities, posing questions about the future and privacy of the platform.
Facebook was already displaying ads inside its Oculus mobile app. From now on, users will see similar advertisements in VR as well and be able to open the links or save them for later. Facebook has just begun testing simple banner-like adverts to determine what the final product will look like.
According to Facebook, the new tactic will allow it to recover some of its hardware investments and share a portion of the ad revenue with developers
In addition to that, the extra revenue stream should keep the price of the Oculus headsets low so that they are more approachable to consumers.
Rising Concerns in the Community
However, not everyone shares Facebook’s vision for the future of virtual reality.
Many users are worried about protecting their privacy, as well as the games themselves. These concerns are based on a series of recent events.
To explain, Facebook has seen its power to target ads diminish significantly in the last few weeks. This is largely due to Android announcing it would allow users to block app tracking and Apple already explicitly asking users if they want to do the same.
On top of that, many browsers now include tracker blockers by default.
It’s a significant blow, considering the biggest part of Facebook’s revenue comes from targeted ads. Users are reasonably concerned that the conglomerate is looking for a new data source rather than just ad space.
While Facebook promises most local data collected by VR headsets won’t be used for ad targeting, not all users are convinced. After all, the Oculus headsets can collect motion data, audio, and pictures of surroundings—even more than what mobile phones can access.
Leveraging this could prove too attractive (or profitable) to pass up.
On top of that, Facebook already requires users to have a Facebook account to play the Oculus Quest VR games.
Sketchy Privacy Policies
This means there is practically nothing that can stop Facebook from collecting user info from VR sessions.
It certainly doesn’t help that Facebook already has reputation for disregarding user privacy.
Many people are also worried about what introducing an ad-based revenue system will do to VR apps. It’s easy to imagine the same scenario that happened to mobile games—a hellscape of pay-to-win titles ridden with unskippable ads.
Time will tell if the push for privacy will win over corporate efforts towards higher profit margins.
Or, perhaps, competing VR systems might use the commotion to carve out their slice of the market. Either way, users might have to resort to other measures to safeguard their privacy, like identity protection tools.