[German]The Bundeskartellamt (German Federal Cartel Office) has initiated an investigation against Facebook. The goal is to examine the linkage between Oculus virtual reality products and the social network and Facebook platform for a possible abuse.
I had just reported on the competition lawsuit against Facebook in the USA (see my German blog post Klage gegen Facebook, Trennung von Instagram und WhatsApp als Ziel). The issue there is the linking of Instagram and WhatsApp and the obstruction of competition. In this article, the New York Times quotes experts as saying that the antitrust lawsuits against Facebook are anything but a foregone conclusion, as the standard of proof in U.S. courts is high. For the sake of completeness, I'll also link to Facebook's statement on the antitrust suit – without commenting further.
Background on Facebook and the Oculus case
Oculus was bought by Facebook in March 2014 for US $2 billion. Since that time, the hype around VR goggles has degreased. However, Facebook is pursuing its own agenda with its Oculus purchase.
Users of Oculus Rift VR product have to register and log in with their Facebook account since October 2020. Starting in October 2020 the following boundary conditions applies:
- Anyone using an Oculus device for the first time must sign in with a Facebook account.
- However, an existing user who already has an Oculus account will get the option to sign into Facebook and merge the Oculus and Facebook accounts. .
- An existing user who does not want to merge their accounts can continue to use the Oculus account for two years, after which the account will be deactivated.
So, starting in 2023, this means that users of Oculus VR goggles will have to forcibly link them to their Facebook account.
The competition proceedings of the antitrust office
The Bundeskartellamt has initiated abuse proceedings against Facebook as of December 10, 2020. It is about the above-mentioned linking of Oculus virtual reality products with the social network and the Facebook platform. This means the Federal Network Agency can now check whether there are any violations of competition law there.
Andreas Mundt, President of the Bundeskartellamt, says:
"In the future, the use of the new Oculus glasses requires the user to also have a Facebook account. Linking virtual reality products and the group's social network in this way could constitute a prohibited abuse of dominance by Facebook. With its social network Facebook holds a dominant position in Germany and is also already an important player in the emerging but growing VR (virtual reality) market. We intend to examine whether and to what extent this tying arrangement will affect competition in both areas of activity."
Facebook has begun to integrate its virtual reality activities into the social network Facebook.com, as mentioned above. The Oculus platform, which has previously been operated separately from Facebook.com, will be offered as an additional function on Facebook's social network, under the name "Facebook Reality Labs". The use of the latest "Quest 2" VR glasses, will require registration using a Facebook.com account. Existing Oculus accounts can no longer be used for registration and the new hardware. Distribution of the new VR glasses outside Germany has already begun.
The aim of virtual reality products is to create a virtual world for the user to experience while using digital content. Three-dimensional vision which allows the human eye to perceive its surroundings in 3D is simulated with special technology. VR glasses are necessary for the use of VR technology. Further hardware is also required, usually a PC, a gaming console or a smartphone. In some VR glasses, including Facebook's Oculus "Quest 2" glasses, the necessary hardware is already integrated, allowing them to function as "stand alone" devices. Finally, VR software, i.e. digital platforms such as (up to now) the Oculus platform which offer VR content, is necessary to access and use VR content. Currently, VR applications are mainly used in the gaming and video sector. However, their use is not limited to these areas. The number of users and turnover with such applications are constantly increasing.
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