As Facebook Tightens Their Grip On VR, Jailbreaking Looks More Likely

The Quest 2 wireless VR headset by Oculus was recently released, and improves on the one-and-a-half year old Quest mainly in terms of computing power and screen resolution. But Oculus is owned by Facebook, a fact that Facebook is increasingly keen on making very clear. The emerging scene is one that looks familiar: a successful hardware device, and a manufacturer that wants to keep users in a walled garden while fully controlling how the device can be used. Oculus started out very differently, but the writing has been on the wall for a while. Rooting and jailbreaking the Quest 2 seems inevitable, but what will happen then?

Facebook Makes It Clear They Want Control

Quest 2 wireless VR headset. Facebook account required.

The Quest 2 now requires a Facebook account to operate. Existing Quest headset users can coast along with an Oculus account on their older hardware, but only for now.

Users must link their Facebook account, or create an account if they don’t have one. Having users sign up for access to online services is nothing new, but Facebook is a social network intent on tracking every activity and connection between people. It is not an integral part of delivering a VR experience to a user. But if a user doesn’t have an account, or refuses to create one, the device simply cannot be used, regardless of whether one wishes to partake of Facebook’s social features, and concomitant surveilance, or not.

Facebook is also adamant about users adhering to their “real names only” policy and is known to engage in demanding identity verification, which makes creating a throwaway account with a fake name perhaps less feasible of an option than it otherwise would be. There’s another wrinkle as well; users who violate Facebook’s terms risk losing access to their account, which also means losing access to all of their purchases, effectively rendering their expensive headset useless. Even if one leaves the social network voluntarily and closes their Facebook account, the company has made it clear that all of one’s purchases will disappear along with it.

It Wasn’t Always This Way

Facebook purchased Oculus back in 2014, meaning that when the original Quest headset released in May 2019 Oculus was already owned by Facebook. But it wasn’t until recently that their products showed overt signs of Facebook integration. In Blake Harris’ book The History of the Future, which chronicles Oculus’ beginnings with a successful crowdfunded headset design, and their eventual purchase by Facebook, it’s clear that Oculus had very different values. And there is definitely one feature that exists thanks to Oculus advocating for it: the ability to sideload apps not approved by Facebook.

Sideloading is achieved by flipping a software toggle in the headset, essentially enabling Developer Mode, to allow apps from “untrusted sources”. It is so popular with users that an alternate software library and helper application called SideQuest has emerged as the de facto source for apps and software that are neither approved nor controlled by Facebook.

Even so, Facebook exerts a kind of soft control in the sense that one must be careful not to step on Facebook’s toes, because sideloading is only possible while Facebook permits it. That is because there’s one more ingredient needed to access developer mode: one must register a developer account. This used to be a trivial process, little more than filling in a couple fields in one’s account settings, but Facebook recently began to require verification of developer accounts.

Starting in October 2020, Facebook expects a valid phone number or credit card information at a minimum, and without developer credentials one cannot enable sideloading on their headset. Developer verification, by the way, is separate from the requirement of requiring a Facebook account for the headset itself. No authorized developer account, no access to sideloading.

The writing was on the wall when social features like virtually attending live events required a Facebook login, and with the release of the Quest 2, all of that kicked into high gear. Sideloading only exists while Facebook allows it, new restrictions have already begun rolling out, and a real-names-only Facebook account tied to your VR activity is needed to even use the headset itself.

Jailbreaking Looks Likely, But Then What?

Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of people less than delighted with the new terms dictated by Facebook. Robert Long, a WebXR developer at Mozilla, offered a $5,000 bounty for a working jailbreak to free the device from its reliance on Facebook, an offer former Oculus founder Palmer Luckey also pledged to match.

A solution hasn’t been released yet, but there are reports that a working jailbreak exists. If a means of rooting the headset and freeing it from Facebook gets released into the wild, we’ll doubtlessly see a sort of arms race play out between hackers intent on using their purchased device as they see fit, and Facebook working to prevent exactly that.

But what happens then? One possibility is foreshadowed by Facebook’s tolerance of sideloading: they may simply harvest the best ideas and features from independent developers, and take them as their own. Users will be less likely to bother with jailbreaking if doing so doesn’t deliver any compelling features. If history repeats itself and VR follows the same path as jailbreaking did with the Apple iPhone, then the benefits offered by jailbreaking will dwindle and ultimately disappear, leaving the process of crafting jailbreaks useful mainly for collecting bug bounties. But Facebook is not Apple, and the Quest is not an iPhone. Perhaps things will go in a different direction, but we’ll have to wait to find out.

58 thoughts on “As Facebook Tightens Their Grip On VR, Jailbreaking Looks More Likely

  1. Imagine what happens if this becomes common practice: You post a rant on Facebook, that someone dislikes, or you link to the wrong meme, and suddenly your home automation, your fridge, your TV and your car stops working.

    You think that sounds far fetched? Think again.

    1. This can already happen. People have been de-banked for having the wrong opinions online. We already have a social credit system, you just can’t see your score until it’s too late.

        1. Banking services suspended. It’s happened in the U.K. when the Twitter mobs have pressurised banks keen to display their work status into suspending banking services for non-progressives.

          1. “Is ‘non-progressives’ a code word for ‘people who don’t want harmless other people to live their lives in peace’?”

            No. It has been and was never about that.

            It’s simply about control of others. Those who don’t get with the program are purged. Quite frankly I’d think we’d be over this crap by now, but I guess we like repeating history.

        1. Just did, if it werent for all the good things in the list i would have liked it. Love this quote too “Critics also say that “it’s a thinly veiled ideological attack on industries the Obama administration doesn’t like, such as gun sellers and coal producers.”. Like those are good industries to protect XD

      1. VR is a healthy and viable industry. The technology is finally here to make it so and it has now started generating its own technology, which tends to be a good sign. Facebook, on the other hand, is Facebook and will always be Facebook. If anything, it will only become more Facebook.

  2. Yeah, I bought the first Quest and was eyeing the second one but not now. Thankfully I declined when it wanted to go ahead and transition to a Facebook login but it told me I would have no choice in a couple of years. Hopefully someone else has something better by then. Open source would be great but pretty unlikely.

      1. Building a 3DoF (orientation only) headset is the easy part. Yes, they claim Steam compatibility but there is not positional tracking at all and no controller support neither …

        The ecosystem around – support, software, warranties (no, most people won’t 3D print their headsets at home), getting developers on board etc is not. That actually costs money and manpower, especially for a consumer product.

        That’s why there is essentially only Facebook … and Facebook in this market (Valve being in a small enthusiast niche and the rest has market shares not worth mentioning).

  3. It exists & fully works, they are only holding it back now to prepare a very strong legal case for it, so that when it gets released Facebook cant simply go “nope” and sue the makers or patch it out.

  4. Whatsapp timeline:

    (2014) https://blog.whatsapp.com/setting-the-record-straight
    (2016) https://blog.whatsapp.com/looking-ahead-for-whats-app
    (2018) https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/30/technology/whatsapp-facebook-jan-koum.html
    (Today) https://www.whatsapp.com/legal/privacy-policy

    It took them two years to go from “we won’t log your GPS location” to “we record how long you dwell over links in webpages, and correlate that with messages you send via Whatsapp, to whom, and about which of our partners, and forward that information, along with device and browser fingerprints, off to the Facebook family of companies.”

      1. SMS / MMS still works fine, and between them they do bscly everything whatsapp etc can do, but you only need to “worry” about your provider reading them, instead of having to worry about provider and facebook and all of facebook advertising partners.

      2. It sadly all depends on the people you wish to communicate with.

        If you have people willing to move the plattform:

        Matrix/Riot is probably the best in the long run. They are getting stable and do not require you to have a phone.
        Server and Client OS.

        Signal, quite good, but inferior in UX in most ways.
        Opensource in theory, but you cannot connect to the signal network, if you build your own client.

        Telegram in terms of UX best in my opinion and also therefore big adoption(and open source client), but controlled by a company which does not make money with it yet, so who knows how it will change

    1. Combine this with the fact that Valve has been quietly gaining ground left and right (WMR now pretty much implemented steam as primary way to game, Valve shared their controller design with Pimax, helped HP make a new Reverb that incorporates the most praised features of the Valve Index) and its kind of obvious that Facebook is losing the VR race already.

      3-4 years from now Oculus will be gone (wich is kind of sad, but also good considering its pretty much only a sticker on Facebook offices at this point anyway) and PSVR and SteamVR will be the main way we play VR games ^^ (HTC will likely go for the ‘mobile’ market but the rest are really not all that interested until the tech as a whole has evolved a bit more, and HTC is hit and miss lately, with mostly misses)

      1. That was only the Galaxy Gear which was simply a plastic holder for a Samsung phone :)

        Doesn’t mean they will be tied to Oculus forver. The Rift S was also designed mainly by Lenovo who are also very active with their own stuff on the AR/VR market (mainly AR, with the new A6 Hololens alternative)

  5. I have no FB or Twit or any other account which proposes control that North Korea would drool about. The beginning of the end of all life on Earth as we know it. I will not use any web-based pay-as-you-go software. I wear no clothing with a logo. If Nike wants me to advertise their product, they pay me and not vice versa. If people put up with this stuff it will escalate. Close your FB accounts and leave it to the sheep.

  6. Facebook buying Oculus made them an immediate No-go for me. Any hardware that requires a “social media” account that can be taken away at the drop of someone elses hat is a no-go for me in general.

    1. Same for me. I didn’t have the cash or a DK1 when it was kickstarted, so I saved my pennies, was super excited and ready to buy both a DK2 and then a retail unit when it came out, and I then got completely discouraged and deflated when the Facebook deal was announced. I pulled out and sat there in shock. It really killed it for me as I did not like Facebook’s policies from the very beginning and did not wish to support them in any way. I didn’t look into VR until very much later, and ended up with a WMR headset (Samsung Odyssey Plus). At least I don’t need an online Microsoft or Facebook account to use it. (Yet anyway). The fact I needed Windows 10 to use it was kind of a bummer, but perhaps someone will reverse engineer it well enough to get it going in Linux someday.

  7. Facebook can pound sand.
    Maybe it’s a false hope, but I really hope that this sort of thing backfires right into Facebook’s stupid face and they get sued out of existence. The world would be a much better place without them.

  8. Is it possible that jailbreaking is a bad thing? Maybe we shouldn’t do that. I’m not sure.

    When company X owns the market of some type of device and locks it tight with restrictive firmware or some form of walled garden they create a need for a competitor. Jailbreaking fills that need but in kind of an inferior way. Only the more techie users will be able or willing to go through a jailbreaking procedure. And those who do will constantly have to worry that company x might push an update that defeats the jailbreak causing them to lose whatever they have bought or built.

    But.. a jailbroken device does work. So maybe it’s taking away the necessity that should have been the mother of a more open competitor? Does jailbreaking ultimately do the hacker community more harm than good by sapping the motivation for creating open devices?

    It’s just a thought and maybe it’s wrong. Maybe the answer to so many tech corporations’ bad behaviors is just to keep on jailbreaking and show them that their DRM is a waste of time. Or maybe not. Maybe it would be better to focus that effort on making good yet affordable open source device design that beat their closed products.

    1. ….then get swallowed by a big monolithic company… That WAS Oculus. Designing and Sourcing parts/components costs personal energy, time and money so you MUST have product.. to offer to sell to continue to have a purpose…

      AND you need new product to continue to keep going.

      So? How do you stop people from selling out. You cant if the company is private and greedy. And you can’t at the public level if you control less then 51.x% , they can just buy all the shares and kick you out.

      Honestly this happens in software more then we can count. The list is never ending. Oracle swallowed Toad, Sun Microsystem and so on. Apple swallows companies… Google, Microsoft, Autodesk, Adobe, Intel, AMD, NVidia.

      They ALL do it and it’s utter cancer. Hell IBM doesn’t make anything anymore they just eat, swallow and sue everyone. They have become copyright trolls.

        1. YOU. complete psychopath. I really don’t care what side you imagine you side on? But it’s completely Authoritarian. Personally, my feeling is in turn; an Authoritarian response. Toward people that think in that manner.

          I would not be against seeing.

          Public impaling for those that advocate for bigger governments, more taxes and more laws.

          Remember this buddy, old pal and friend of mine. Che was the first to go.

          Perhaps, you thought about how the Great Singularity would serve you was the priority.. but understand. WE ALL SEE AND ALL KNOW. You just happen to be serving the Great Filter for your own selfish reasons.

      1. No, not open like Occulus. Open like RepRap. Designs go on GitHub not Kickstarter. Release it all GPL and don’t bother building a shell company around it build a community instead.

        Yes, I know that to become relevant in the wider population you can’t expect all the users to build their own gear from scratch but if you make the designs good enough and show enough people what you have the clone shops will do that for you. Just look at all those AVR transistor testors out there. It’s not really even an organized project, just a thread on a mailing list but every clone shop has their own copy plastered all over Ebay and Amazon. The nice thing about those clone shops is with no real brand names of their own their products are just commodities. No one ever gets the dominance necessary to extend and extinguish so they must remain compatible.

        And this is why all those so-called open source non-commercial licenses must die. If you want to change the world just make it open. If you want to make money then keep it closed and sell it to a bigger company once it’s successful. If you want to do neither but just muddy the waters and reduce necessity that might otherwise inspire someone else to start a truly open project.. that’s the only real use of a non-com license.

        You say you must have a product and to sell something to have a purpose. I wonder how long you’ve been around here. Open source hardware has forever changed our hobby for the better and it was all made possible by an internet a majority of which runs on open source software. Countless developers have poured untold hours into projects that have made a difference in the world without selling a product. Sure, when those projects get big enough the corporations see a benefit and start contributing too, eventually even outnumbering the volunteers (see linux) but if your project is already big enough, and spread out enough they won’t be able to close it.

        And look at your acquisition examples. When the original product was proprietary these companies have succeeded in locking them down for the worse. (How are you enjoying your Eagle lately?) But when they started as open source? LibreOffice, MariaDB and other MySQL forks thrive and there is nothing Oracle can do about it.

        Hey, what product does KiCAD sell?

        1. Hold on, you’re complaining that jailbreaking is inferior because only the techie people can do it, but your solution is to have an open source github hardware VR set? That works fine in the 3d printer world, but I don’t know how you expect people to develop game/experience software for that beyond hobbyist level stuff.

    2. Jailbreaking is more pure. Instead of waiting patiently what limited freedom is handed to you, you take your own control.

      Hacking is all about mastery of all things digital. Not about following the PR handbook or letting the market do its thing.

      Also, Jailbreaking is rarely big enough to really be a significant market factor. It always remains too geeky to make a real impact.

  9. I was on the fence and thinking about getting one of these this year. But I do not have a facebook account, nor twitter, nor snapchat, nor instagram, nor whatsapp, nor any of that time wasting crap. So I guess it is a hard ‘pass’ for now until I can try out VR without the big brother component. It’s ok. I was kind of worried that standing in my living room with a bucket on my head and waving my arms around would make me look like a complete idiot anyway.

  10. As a child of the 70’s first starting with an Apple //e, there was no internet or farcebook.
    When they demanded I use my real name and wanted a copy of my ID/driver’s license, my
    very first thought was “data breach/identity theft”. FB is not a government entity (yet)
    and thus does not need such information. So, the old tired “you’ll lose access etc.”.
    Big deal. If everyone refused, and FB closed their accounts, there wouldn’t be anyone
    on FB now would there? I replied to their threat with, “FB needs me more than I need FB.
    It’s been 5 years, and I don’t miss it. My friends on FB knew who I was and that was enough.
    I still have my friends, no FB needed.
    So I told FB, go ahead, close my account. I also did the same thing on Upwork.
    These demands for information are ridiculous and I for one have been saying “no” for a long
    time. When a store asks if I have a phone number, I point to my ham radio.
    Then, whenever some data breach happens, they go “oh, sorry, whoopsie” and you have no
    legal recourse. My data and information are mine. I decide who gets it and who doesn’t.
    Then there’s the old tired “Oh we must protect the children” Well, it is not the job of
    FB or any other online entity to protect your child. You are a parent, it is your job.
    Upwork tried telling me they wanted a copy of my ID/License to verify who I was,
    What? My banking information to get paid wasn’t enough? So, they lost an account in good
    standing with no complaints. “Then you can’t use our platform”. Oh well, your loss not mine.
    I simply contacted my clients directly and still work for them. No Upwork or farcebook needed.
    As I said, my data and information is mine.

    I will not make any deals with you. I’ve resigned. I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered.

    Best movie quote of all time.

  11. USE GDPR… the right to be forgotten. E.U. law. And therefore you have access and right to repair and prevent your hardware from being bricked.. and more lawsuits on facebook. No? Shrug. Well sharper legal minds should think about it.

    In order news? Twitter is finally dying. And personally we need to hold the pillow down over Twitters company.

  12. I have the first Quest. I love the hardware, but I hate the business model and the software. I can’t wait for something else to fill this space that isn’t trying to own you. Currently there’s nothing in the same price range with the same specs. I wish the jailbreakers well, too.

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