Complex Made Simple

Opinion: Is Big Tech ruining all of our favorite brands?

With bottomless pockets and a penchant for harvesting user data, Big Tech firms continue to buy out and ruin our favorite brands.

Last year, Google announced it would be buying FitBit, causing an uproar amid consumers When Facebook bought VR startup Oculus in 2014, we saw a similar reaction, and this month we see these old fears come true Big Tech firms will stop at nothing in their quest for user data

Opinions expressed in this piece belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of AMEinfo.  

When Google announced last year that it was buying FitBit, with a $2.1 billion deal set to be closed in 2020, consumers of the beloved wearable were in an uproar. Some took to social media to voice their discontent, others disposed of their devices, and many planned to boycott the brand going forward. 

The root of their concerns was simple: Google, which is constantly mired in anti-trust allegations, was now about to gain access to data that many find much more sensitive and valuable than a simple email address and user profile: information about their health.

Twitter was ablaze upon hearing the news. 

This month, European regulators officially launched an investigation into the upcoming purchase of FitBit, “concerned that the proposed transaction would further entrench Google’s market position in the online advertising markets by increasing the already vast amount of data that Google could use for personalisation of the ads it serves and displays.” 

Basically, what users are worried about. 

Facebook buys out doe-eyed innovators and bait-and-switches customersImage: Oculus

Another recent incident involves Facebook and famous VR tech developer Oculus. 

After being acquired by the social media giant in 2014, concern and discontent were voiced by many, including the original Kickstarter backers of Oculus. 

“I cannot put into words how betrayed I feel by this,” backer Sergey Chubukov writes on the Oculus Kickstarter comment page, as reported by The Verge. “I feel cheated. I backed a vision of what I wanted gaming to be in the future. Now all I want is my money back,” writes Grant Wilkinson. 

“I’m disappointed. You had the potential to become bigger than Facebook on your own,” says John Susek, another backer.

The founder of the massively-popular Minecraft video game Markus Persson, who was an early Oculus backer, had some strong opinions too.

“I did not chip in ten grand to seed a first investment round to build value for a Facebook acquisition,” he wrote in a blog post. “I will not work with Facebook. Their motives are too unclear and shifting, and they haven’t historically been a stable platform.”

Facebook brought credence to all these concerns this month when it announced that going forward starting from October, users will need a Facebook account to log in and use their Oculus headsets. 

This was announced on the Oculus corporate blog, and very much feels like a passive-aggressive ultimatum issued via proxy by a Big Tech firm throwing its weight around. 

Judge for yourself: 

“Starting in October 2020:

-Everyone using an Oculus device for the first time will need to log in with a Facebook account.
-If you’re an existing user and already have an Oculus account, you’ll have the option to log in with Facebook and merge your Oculus and Facebook accounts.
-If you’re an existing user and choose not to merge your accounts, you can continue using your Oculus account for two years.

After January 1, 2023, we will end support for Oculus accounts. If you choose not to merge your accounts at that time, you can continue using your device, but full functionality will require a Facebook account. We will take steps to allow you to keep using content you have purchased, though we expect some games and apps may no longer work. This could be because they include features that require a Facebook account or because a developer has chosen to no longer support the app or game you purchased. All future unreleased Oculus devices will require a Facebook account, even if you already have an Oculus account.”

Signing up for a Facebook account in this day and age is like willingly abandoning the right to your privacy, essentially signing up to have your data harvested. When you consider Facebook’s history with data collection and imagine how it can evolve when factoring in unique VR-collected metrics and behaviors, such as tracking your eye-movements during an ad, the prospect becomes utterly unnerving.

The problem here is unlike the situation with a device like the Google Stadia, which launched with the requirement of having a Google account made clear since day one, users of Oculus devices both old and new are experiencing a bait-and-switch. 

“This transition to a Facebook account requirement is unprecedented in consumer electronics,” news site ArsTechnica writes. “On the gaming side, no console or connected gaming service has ever required its users’ social network (or even its wholly owned email products) to function. (That means you can use Xbox Live without one of Microsoft’s addresses.)”

This new condition set by Facebook years into a product life cycle is what’s earned the most flak, especially given earlier promises by both Oculus and Facebook., one of which was that you wouldn’t need an FB account to use Oculus products.

Oculus founder Palmer Luckey tried to address said broken promises in a Reddit post. 

Regardless of what Luckey assures, many people have long since lost their faith in Facebook, and this second failure on his part after the negatively-received 2014 purchase that many saw as a betrayal could seal the deal for many in regards to Oculus devices and their role in the future of VR.

It’s altogether an unfortunate affair, a tragic tale of a big corporation corrupting the idealistic dreams of a garage-based innovator, and a reminder that Big Tech continues to ruin our favorite brands. Looking back, Facebook did the same with Instagram and WhatsApp, diluting their identities into a hodgepodge of part-original and part-plagiarized features, like the Stories feature Facebook apps ‘borrowed’ from Snapchat, one of the few companies that didn’t succumb to the allure of Big Tech cash.