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Facebook is starting to test ads in Oculus VR

The long-discussed proposal is now starting in a few apps.

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Blaston, one of the first VR apps to get experimental advertising.

Facebook

Virtual reality has been, to this point, a largely ad-free experience, but that may soon change. Facebook is beginning to push ads into apps and games now, starting with a few test experiments. How far the rollout will go after that is unknown.

Facebook had broadcast its intentions to use VR and AR data to inform advertising last year, with changes in data policies to its platform. The Oculus mobile app for phones started introducing ads recently, but now they're coming to a few VR games and apps, marking the first time we'll see in-headset ads.

The ads may appear embedded in the VR experience, as the first example shared by Facebook indicates. Blaston, by Revolution Games (an online fighting game) will be one of the first apps with ads. Based on Facebook's photo examples, the ads look like they're displayed in the world experience, not presented as any sort of popped-up overlays. The ad can be highlighted, according to animated gif, and can trigger a browser link, or can be flagged as being not of interest or inappropriate.

Facebook is positioning the emergence of ads in VR as a way of adding new forms of revenue to apps and games, and for Facebook itself. In a sense, it may also be a way of continuing to pay for the relatively low cost of Facebook's VR hardware.

What interacting with VR ads looks like.

Facebook

"For now, this is a test with a few apps -- once we see how this test goes and incorporate feedback from developers and the community, we'll provide more details on when ads may become more broadly available across the Oculus Platform and in the Oculus mobile app, as well as guidance for businesses and developers interested in advertising on Oculus," Facebook said in an announcement on its site. 

The move to ads is also a likely step toward where Facebook Reality Labs sees its future of AR content and glasses. That will likely be an ecosystem that's more focused on real-world overlays and e-commerce. Mobile AR has already become a very brand- and ad-driven space.

Facebook detailed some limits of where VR tracking is and isn't being collected for advertising, but it's hard to actually vet out how these play out or are enforced. Facebook stresses that anything processed on-headset isn't used for ad targeting (photographic camera data used from the Oculus headset, or any weight/height/gender information from Oculus Move) aren't shared. The company also says it has "no plans to use movement data to target ads," and it doesn't use Messenger, Chats or any conversational data to target ads as well as any voice command data.

But beyond that, it's hard to pinpoint how behaviors and interactions in VR will be used for ad-tracking going forward, or what the limits will be. The experiment starting now on a few ads is one that Facebook says it welcomes feedback on, but what's more concerning is that it may set a precedent for how VR and AR end up introducing more ads in the future.