Facebook has announced that it will officially begin testing in-game ads in Oculus VR headsets. The company says this is part of an effort to “offer developers a new way to showcase their VR applications.” The first game to be modified this way will be Blaston, but more titles are rumored to be rolling out in the coming weeks.
According to Facebook, its goals are “to bring more people into virtual reality, improve the consumer experience, and make progress in our long-term augmented reality initiatives.” As part of this effort, it wants to help developers earn additional revenue. The company notes that this is currently a test of some apps and promises to solicit community feedback. It will then provide more details on when and how the ads will run. Presumably, this will cover all aspects of the program, including the types of ads, how they are displayed in the game, and the type of company Facebook will advertise to. It promises that end users will have the option to hide ads based on content or hide all ads from advertisers.
But stop for a moment and consider what is said here. Facebook has just explicitly promised that it will not collect the more personal and intimate data it could collect in its advertising. As it turns out, we’ve gotten to the point where we should be grateful to Facebook for their concern to ensure our privacy, rather than infuriated by the way the company has aggressively attacked the very meaning of the word. Scandals run together at this point, but one of my favorites has always been the revelation that Facebook built shadow profiles on people who have not used his service. It is not possible to deactivate Facebook. Literally not using Facebook is a reason for Facebook to collect your data.
This same company claims, like yours first advertising principle, the idea that Facebook developers, including those in the advertising department, should “build for people first.” Any developer considering trusting Facebook to have their interests at heart would do well to consider how the company performed during the so-called pin to video. Or the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Or any number of scandals since then.
The worst part is this: Facebook has a real topic. Virtual reality developers need to be able to make more money with virtual reality if they want to be successful. Discoverability is a problem in many app stores. Helping creators connect their other projects could be a good thing. Asking someone to watch an ad for a second or two during a loading screen isn’t an inconceivable difficulty. And if I trusted Facebook to leave things to that, I wouldn’t be so wary of the company.
It seems to say that Facebook’s mock ad doesn’t actually do that show a developer who uses ads to spread news about its other games, although this is the example the company provided when it announced that the ads were coming to Oculus mobile app, and was referring to helping developers earn revenue in the blog post we’re discussing. The image above looks much more like a demonstration of how Facebook can determine your location and provide you with location-based advertising.
The company leads with a flawless argument (supporting independent developers in a troubled market!) While putting only enough information into the post to plausibly later claim that it didn’t lie about its intentions. This kind of plausible denial is integral to the way some corporate PR teams work. It is essentially a variation on a motte-and-bailey argument. Accuse Facebook of acting solely in its own interest, as I’m saying it probably will, and the company will point to this blog post about developers, developers, developers, along with a host of developer-centric metrics. It accuses Facebook of hiding the part about selling advertising to non-developers, and the company may point to the image as proof that it showed people exactly the type of advertising it would implement from day one. No matter how you claim you have been misled, the company can claim that it is your fault.
Little things like this, combined with most of the company’s behavior over the past decade, are why me do not do it trust Facebook to “leave it to this”. I expect Facebook to leverage the idea of helping developers earn revenue on their path to building an ecosystem that benefits themselves first and foremost. I expect them to treat user privacy with the same quality and attention to detail they have had over the past decade. It wouldn’t surprise me to find Mark Zuckerberg handing out manila envelopes filled with other people’s personal medical stories on October 31st in lieu of Halloween candy.
I expect Facebook to find ways to place ads in VR as long as most of what is being advertised has little to do with games. Given the space to show us what kind of VR advertising it has in mind, the advertisements displayed by the company have nothing to do with VR. Maybe the ads will run on the game’s billboards. Perhaps through product placement. Maybe through mid-chapter interstitials or unmissable videos. The possibilities are endless. Used in moderation, any of them are fine. But when was Facebook born? never do things in moderation? “Move fast and break things” is not a moderate motto.
Facebook isn’t going to pop out from behind a pillar by playing around with a fake mustache. We won’t find out in two months that the company is secretly stealing the kids of VR developers to force them to create games faster. The company is much more likely to integrate some ads very sensibly. Then some more. Then some more. At some point, the privacy guarantees regarding data that Facebook does not collect will become a little more vague. Transparent language will become a little more obtuse. The ad categories will expand. People might even joke a little bit about how Oculus VR displayed advertisements for VR games, the same way MTV showed music videos.
One day, years from now, a scandal will break out. We will find that Facebook has been doing something terrible with regards to VR privacy all this time. Facebook will once again attempt to frame its catastrophic failure as “a vast industry problem”. Someone write an internal email about the need to “normalize the fact that this activity takes place on a regular basis, “rather than taking responsibility for Facebook’s contributions to” this activity. “When it happens, people turn around and ask,” When did it start to go wrong? “
I don’t know when this exact moment will be this time. But based on Facebook’s behavior to date, I’d say it started going bad the first time Facebook started embedding advertising. It started to go wrong when Facebook started telling us how much it cared about our privacy, as a cover for the fact that it literally didn’t care about our privacy. The company took the world’s most blameless set of facts – namely, that running the world’s largest social network costs money and therefore advertising should be considered inherently fair – and skewed the end result to make fun of. of the idea that anyone can meaningfully choose not to be tracked by Facebook. Facebook has literally bought data from data brokers to add to what he knew about you.
Advertising, as such, is not the problem. Facebook’s approach is.