Zuckerberg's bespoke 'realilty OS' was a victim of his whistleblower

Three years ago Zuck started a project that was to free the metaverse from dependence on Google and Apple. In November he had to shut it down.

From Sylvia Varnham O'Regan's "Meta Platforms Halts VR and AR Operating System Project" ($) posted Wednesday The Information:

Meta in November notified employees at Reality Labs, the division that develops VR and AR devices, about the decision to stop work on XROS. The notification came shortly after Mark Lucovsky, a former high-profile Microsoft engineer who was leading the team, announced he was leaving the company, a person familiar with the matter said. The project began in 2017 and more than 300 people were working on the software, said one of the people with knowledge of it...

Contacted by The Information, Lucovsky said in a text message: “I made my decision to leave Facebook after the 60 Minutes interview [with Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen] on 10/4, subsequent readings of the material supplied to the SEC, and the company’s new metaverse-centric focus.” The metaverse refers to efforts by Zuckerberg and others to develop immersive digital worlds, commonly experienced in virtual, mixed and augmented reality, where billions of people could interact...

Meta has long wanted to wean itself from technology developed by other companies. That’s certainly the case with VR and AR, Andrew Bosworth, head of the group that develops the devices, told The Information in 2019. As recently as June, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg publicly touted the importance of the new AR and VR operating system, and said the “team is pretty far along in this, at this point.”...

Zuckerberg’s yearning for independence stretches back more than a decade, when he became concerned about the risks of operating the most popular apps on mobile devices controlled by Apple and Google. Roughly six years ago, Zuckerberg went so far as to prepare for a worst-case scenario of Google kicking Facebook and other Meta social apps off Android-powered phones, The Information previously reported. More recently, Meta has waged a public relations battle with Apple over the iPhone maker’s decision to allow app users to opt out of advertising-related tracking by Meta’s social apps and others. Apple also is developing its own mixed reality headsets, putting it in direct competition with Meta.

My take: Zuckerberg understands the importance of owning the stack, especially when new virtual- and augmented-reality platforms are being launched. What he doesn't understand, it seems, is the consequence of his actions in the real world.

15 Comments

  1. Fred Stein said:
    Thanks for the context about Zuck’s thinking. I recommend FOB’s view his YouTube video on his Metaverse vision, where he touts the open-ness and empowering P2P transactions bypassing the gatekeepers.

    BUT…..

    Currently his Metaverse is just the opposite. The Quest 2 AppStore has the same monetization model and iOS and Android. Content for Quest 2 is for Quest 2 only, not cross-platform at all. The user base is 1/10 of 1% of iOS+Android. The number of Apps is double digits vs. millions for iOS.

    How does this hypocrisy inspire workers?

    8
    January 6, 2022
  2. Mordechai Beizer said:
    There has to be more to the story than this. You don’t shut down a strategic project just because the lead developer, or even a bunch of developers, leave. You may need to re-staff, and certainly change the timeline, but to deep-six such a strategic initiative? One reason to abandon such an initiative is if Facebook is finding it difficult to attract first-rate software talent in general (which would not surprise me). Of course, if that is the case, the likelihood of Facebook being able to build a new complex VR environment on top of an open-source fork of Android is de minimis.

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    January 6, 2022
  3. Jerry Doyle said:
    Interestingly, the stock price is up around 1% this morning, several dollars per share. Can any negative news suppress this company’s stock price? Talk about an oxymoron. Another piece of bad news for Facebook (Meta). Buy the stock!

    2
    January 6, 2022
  4. Bart Yee said:
    Maybe there’s a back room “don’t compete” deal between Google (Android) and Facebook – our guy defects or is lured to Google, Google will code new VR stuff, we’ll keep using Android for VR and shut down VROS, you keep pointing people to Facebook through search, we’ll keep running Google / Facebook ads.

    Always. Follow. The. Money.

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    January 6, 2022
    • David Emery said:
      if someone could prove, or at least credibly document that, the antitrust people (FTC, Justice Dept, Congress, Courts, etc, etc, etc.) will have a field day!

      2
      January 6, 2022
  5. David Emery said:
    Nor does Zuckerberg understand the ‘how’ of this kind of product focused, need-to-get-it-right engineering. Facebook is a hot mess of bad software, you can’t build an operating system with that kind of “let the users debug it” mentality. Microsoft barely got away with it, because they were great at ensuring their bugware was sold on pretty much every computer not made by Apple. The market for VR now is more diverse, and for AR will be much more diverse, so what worked for Microsoft the previous millennium won’t work for Meta now.

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    January 6, 2022
  6. Kirk DeBernardi said:
    His product is flawed because his understanding of it, and approach to it, is flawed.

    This happens when your Frankenstein’s lifeblood is the perpetuation of ads.

    4
    January 6, 2022
  7. Robert Stack said:
    Zuck is…Zuck. A morally bankrupt greed monster, who’d sell his own mother for a buck.

    OTOH, in the “better late than never” category, there’s Lucovsky. If it’s really true that he resigned from FB based on Haugen’s testimony and SEC filings (and there’s no secret deal with Google as some of you postulate), then I tip my hat to him. It’s not always easy to do the right thing…

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    January 6, 2022
    • Bart Yee said:
      @Robert
      If it was true Lucovsky quit on principle, I agree. But is moving from Facebook to Google much, if any, better? One would think a number of companies would be interested in his services if he were pretty good.

      It is certainly possible that Apple is further along so not in need or preferred not to hire him IF he came calling. Speculation all mine of course.

      0
      January 6, 2022
      • Robert Stack said:
        @Bart: But is moving from Facebook to Google much, if any, better?

        Yes, I think FB is rotten to the core because Zuck can do whatever he wants – he owns 58% of the company. There is still some hope for Google, but it has indeed fallen mightily from its “Do No Evil” days. At least Sergei and Larry developed the underlying search algorithm that Google was able to successfully monetize, while Zuck stole the idea for FB from the Winklevoss twins (for which he subsequently had to pay $65M in a legal settlement). He later also shafted fellow FB founder Eduardo Saverin.

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        January 6, 2022
  8. I’m expecting Apple’s highly-anticipated VR headset will arrive with features lacking on the Oculus Quest 2, Valve Index VR, HTC Vive Cosmos Elite VR , PlayStation VR, HP Reverb G2 and Samsung’s HMD Odyssey. The feature set is Parental Controls, often including time limits, app/content limits and 3rd Party tracker blocking. I realize kids & Zuckerberg abhor these features but many responsible parents take time to learn about features designed to keep their progeny out of raunchy VRChat sessions and SecondLife cartoonish porn parties.
    Safety and privacy will remain cornerstones of Apple’s product & service lines. Some may argue that teens will find a way around restrictions yet many do listen to the adults that feed, clothe and house them.
    For decades, good parents of tweens and younger have spoken to me about the impact of TV, Internet porn and computer games on their kids. I was asked to review browser history & cookies on the ‘kid’s PC’ by concerned parents originally only interested MS-Office or Photoshop lessons. I found evidence of porn sites, adult chat room use and extreme violence viewing on nearly every system. The only ones lacking evidence were those where the child had already learned to scrub cookies & history. In every case, porn sites had already installed trackers, worms and computer viruses (Remember when Windows without Norton Antivirus could get infected in minutes? )
    Our discoveries inevitably led some parents to ask me to teach their ‘good kids’ about the perils of porn to them and their parent’s computer, while I was reformatting the hard drive. I decided to refer many parents to mental health professionals, on the free advice of my many lawyer clients. Lecturing kids about violence & porn is like walking through a field of landmines.
    Todays game marketers seldom show any compunction to protect kids, preferring profits from games like GTA over a child’s mental well-being. Twelve-year olds regularly click Yes to Are You 18? prompts. Apple always provides tools parents can easily implement and works to improve Safety features. This could be a big reason Apple’s VR headset appears in more birthday packages or as a holiday gift.

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    January 6, 2022
    • John Butt said:
      Great post Thomas.

      As a teen parent in the “naughties” I was able to do similar, but with 100% Apple product it was a bit easier. Luckily my teen was not into porn or violence so the few cookies were a non problem.
      The major issue evident 15-20 years later was the chat rooms and their social impact. The cookies and monitoring software were there, but far worst was the behaviour of people on the chat rooms, and that turned out to be very difficult to balance.
      One bit of monitoring software did cause me a lot of headaches thank goodness, when it started using significant capacity on my line, making itself very obvious. Apple was never quite immune, is it today? Data use is no longer an issue so maybe monitoring continues?

      1
      January 6, 2022
      • John, You are correct, no system is immune to an uninformed user. Apple does allow other than Private Browsing, turning on Location, Local Network search, Camera or Mic access for an app, regardless of the need. At least Apple provides relatively easy to understand working toggles for those choices. FB, Insta & Google create a dense thicket that hides privacy features bound to impact the bottom line.
        After I posted the above I immediately wondered how soon before the antivaxxers, conspiracy theorists, political hacks and violent extremists set up shop in AR or VR environments? Probably the same timeframe it took worms to find a PC without AV software installed.

        2
        January 6, 2022

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