Facebook May Lead AR Race, Some Already Have Concerns

With augmented reality in its News Feed, Instagram and Messenger, Facebook is well positioned to dominate with the biggest AR platform, based on the Camera Effects Platform debuted at F8 2017. Selfie filters are one of the more popular Facebook applications, and Facebook is now rolling out very different filters for its Instagram platform, which has a bigger focus on brands and personalities. Engineering director in charge of Facebook’s AR project Ficus Kirkpatrick said the company wants “to increase the diversity of AR.”

Engadget reports that Facebook’s AR implementation on Messenger is “more commerce-oriented,” and vice president of messaging products David Marcus “showed how Nike would use Messenger and AR to debut a pair of limited edition sneakers.”

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Facebook’s AR Studio tool is “at the heart of Facebook’s plans for AR domination,” offering “even more ways to create and distribute AR content.” The tool is easy to use and points out the difference between Facebook’s approach “versus Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore.” Those who rely on the latter two “are usually building purpose-built apps,” whereas Facebook “is making it more accessible” to its 2+ billion Facebook users, 1.3 billion Messenger users and more than 800+ million on Instagram.

Facebook opened its AR environment to third-party developers, says Kirkpatrick, because “we need a lot of ideas for AR to succeed.” Facebook also just introduced a “target tracking” feature that lets users “connect images, logos and signs … with augmented content.”

Wired reports that, with regard to its ambitions in AR and VR, “Facebook still needs to prove that it’s thinking about new technologies in a way that ensures they won’t become the next obvious frontier for abuse, misinformation, or even election interference.” Facebook’s “own lack of due diligence during growth phases” was what led to its “share of issues with false news, hate speech, and bad apps.”

Although “one research firm” predicts that 1.8 million Oculus Go headsets will sell this year, a small number, it’s not too early for Facebook to consider how it will deal “with ‘fakeness’ in an environment that is, by definition, entirely virtual.” Facebook vice president of consumer hardware Andrew “Boz” Bosworth said the company is working to “ensure a very high quality of platform against misinformation or against bad actors,” adding that the platform is too new “to have serious abuse problems.”

Oculus Go only has about one thousand apps (among them Netflix, Hulu, NatGeo, “Minecraft,” “The Last Jedi”), which have been reviewed manually, said Bosworth. Oculus’ just-published update to its privacy policies “highlighted the addition of a privacy control center for users and clarified the kinds of information Oculus, and in some cases Facebook, collects about Oculus users.” Oculus is also “working on an Abuse and Prevention API that’s being tested by a few app developers right now” and “will become more widely available later this year.”

Oculus app developers have access to “the real-time position of your headset and controllers, your Friend List, and the boundaries of the physical space where you’re using Oculus.” The company promises privacy audits but, notes Wired, that didn’t catch Cambridge Analytica last year.