Mark Zuckerberg is putting some more distance between his most famous creation and his big bet on the future.
On Thursday, Zuckerberg announced that starting next month, users of the Oculus Quest (now Meta) VR headset would no longer need a Facebook account to log in. Instead, he said, the company will roll out separate accounts under the Meta banner that will be independent of the social media site.
“This will give everyone more choice about how you show up in the metaverse,” he wrote.
Users who don’t wish to set up a Meta account will be able to log in using their Facebook account through Jan. 1, 2023, after which a Meta account will be required.
The news follows a backlash last October, after the company began requiring VR users to log into the devices using their Facebook account.
Zuckerberg has been working to separate the Facebook and Meta communities since late last year. The renaming of the company to Meta, in fact, appeared to many to be an effort to distance virtual reality spaces like Horizon Worlds from the scandals that plagued (and continue to plague) Facebook, including allegations the company did little to combat misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines, gave extremists a platform (contributing to the January 6 attack on the Capitol), and was aware of the harm social media caused young users.
Within the company, the negative impact of Facebook on other Meta brands is reportedly known as a “brand tax,” which some claim was responsible for brands like Instagram and WhatsApp losing luster with young users, who have migrated to Snapchat and TikTok.
With the metaverse offerings, Zuckerberg is trying to convince investors (and consumers) that the business is starting fresh, building a virtual world that can be reached through virtual- and augmented reality headsets.
Plus, by separating the former Oculus headset from a Facebook log-in, Meta gets another chance to steer people to its Horizon virtual world. After users create a Meta account, they’ll be prompted to create a Meta Horizon profile, which will act as their social profile in the metaverse.
And while the company says a Meta account “is not a social media profile,” there certainly appear to be some parallel paths between the two.
“Your Oculus friends will become your followers, similar to how it works on Instagram,” the company said in a blog post. “This update provides more ways to be social and connect with others. You can choose whether to share your active status and activity updates, like the apps you own and your achievements, with your followers. If you already own a Meta VR headset, your Oculus friends will automatically become your followers and you’ll follow them back by default. You can choose to unfollow anyone or remove followers at any time.”
Privacy settings will let users choose who follows them, but even with accounts that are locked down, details like profile picture, avatar, username and the number of followers/people you follow will be visible to anyone.
Meta has already encountered a few bumps on its journey to the metaverse. Reality Labs, which is the Meta division in charge of developing Zuckerberg’s vision of the metaverse, lost $10 billion last year. In May, a report from corporate accountability group SumOfUs said Meta’s VR platforms (Horizon Worlds and Horizon Venues) were rife with many of the same problems found in more traditional social media outlets, including misogynistic, homophobic, and racist comments, along with the added horrors of virtual groping. (The company responded by introducing the “personal boundary” feature, which is designed to keep others from violating your avatar’s personal space, creating a roughly four-foot perimeter.
Meanwhile, other companies are ramping up their own metaverse projects. Sony is stepping up its virtual reality efforts, with the PSVR2, Apple is reportedly working on two virtual/augmented reality projects, and both Fortnite and Roblox are creating virtual spaces for players that have nothing to do with the games.