Meta is introducing a new account system for its virtual reality headsets, changing a 2020 requirement that most users log in with Facebook. The new “Meta accounts” don’t require users to sign up for Facebook, and they come with a slew of other updates to Meta’s VR social interface.
Meta accounts will start rolling out in August 2022 for new and existing Quest users. If you’ve been using a Facebook account with a Quest headset (including a Facebook account merged with an earlier Oculus account), you’ll need to create a Meta profile that month. If you’ve been logging in with an Oculus account, you can keep using it until January 1st, 2023, as previously promised. If you migrate your account, you’re supposed to see all the VR apps you previously purchased.
The new option fulfills a promise Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg made last year, and it addresses the fact that a large part of Meta’s VR user base hated the Facebook account requirement. It also reflects Meta’s desire to move away from traditional social apps like Facebook to virtual “metaverse” environments. The company says it’s planning to extend Meta account service to “other Meta devices” in the future, possibly referring to something like Portal videophones.
Practically speaking, however, a lot of Facebook account requirements seem present in Meta accounts as well. Meta account creation requires plenty of personal information, including your name, email address, phone number, date of birth, and payment details for buying apps. A blog post about the change says your Meta account is “not a social profile,” but it says you’ll need to create a Meta Horizon profile, which is social and will appear both in VR and “other surfaces, like the web.”
There are three privacy options for who can see your Horizon account activity — “open to everyone,” “friends and family,” and “solo” — and you can set your account to “private,” which will let you approve people who follow you. (The accounts use a “followers” system like Instagram rather than a mutual “friends” system like Facebook.) But similar to Facebook, people can still search for a locked-down account on the service, and they can see your profile picture, avatar, username, display name, and how many people you follow and are followed by.
But one significant difference is that you can create multiple Meta accounts, each with a separate Horizon profile — a contrast with Facebook’s “one public identity” rule. Meta implies this is a way to maintain multiple personas, like a buttoned-down business profile and one for gaming with friends. These accounts can share apps on the same device using Meta’s App Sharing feature, and you can optionally link them to a Facebook and Instagram account to enable some social features.
Separate Meta accounts might also mitigate the niche but real problem of people being locked out of their headsets over a temporary Facebook suspension, something that’s fairly easy to be hit with on that massive platform — although Meta has long reserved the right to ban people like spammers across multiple platforms at once.
Meta’s model is still more locked-down than several competing VR headsets (mostly PC-tethered) that don’t require an account to set them up. But it’s potentially less annoying for people who specifically don’t want to deal with Facebook — while giving Meta another chance to move beyond its old name.