Some slightly unsettling details have emerged regarding the new Facebook Horizon social VR outing. According to a new "safety video" uploaded to the official Oculus YouTube account, Facebook Horizon will monitor players' feeds and will record the last few minutes of what they say and do in order to look for code of conduct violations.
How will Facebook Horizon be watching its users?
According to the video, during your time in Facebook Horizon, your Oculus headset will be "always capturing your Horizon experience". This, in theory, allows support specialists to confirm or refute a report that you send. Facebook says that the footage will only be sent if you submit a report regarding a violation, and that the footage will be deleted as soon as the support team has verified your report. In addition, support specialists can remotely "see and hear what's going on in real time" and record inappropriate content through your headset. According to Facebook, Horizon could ban anyone who violates its code of conduct.
In practice, this means that users can invite support specialists to see and hear their conversations, ostensibly without the other participant knowing that this is happening. According to RoadToVR, this feature will trigger not only when users report each other, but also when certain "trigger" conditions are met, such as players blocking or muting each other in quick succession. It also means that if Facebook sees you doing anything it doesn't like - anything that contravenes its terms and conditions, regardless of whether or not what you're doing is illegal - you could be punished.
Facebook's Horizon service is currently in an invite-only closed beta stage via Oculus, the VR brand Facebook acquired in 2014. Thanks to recent changes to the Oculus login process, Oculus is now effectively an extension of Facebook rather than merely a brand owned by the Menlo Park social media giant. These changes mandate logging in with Facebook credentials if you are a new Oculus user starting from October this year. If you're an existing user and you don't want to merge your accounts, you'll be able to use your Oculus details for two years, after which time you'll need to use a Facebook login. Support for Oculus accounts will expire in 2023.
As a note, if you are looking for an alternative that lacks the dystopian overtones of Facebook Horizon, you may want to consider VRChat, which is also free and isn't recording everything you do.
Honestly, this is pretty terrifying. Facebook having constant access to the last few minutes of your experience within Horizon is bad enough, but the notion that certain ambient triggers can bring down the surveillance squad is dystopian. Horizon billing itself as a "welcoming space" feels extremely hard to swallow; it's a welcoming space for those willing to play by rules Facebook can arbitrarily set and enforce with far too much punitive power.
How do you feel about this technology Facebook is including in its Horizon VR social space? Let us know in the comments below!