Reality Labs

Responsible innovation in action

February 26, 2021

When we announced the Responsible Innovation Principles for Facebook Reality Labs (FRL) at Facebook Connect in 2020, we shared how we’re building the next computing platform in a responsible, privacy-centric way. Many elements of the technology needed to build this platform do not exist yet — and neither do many of the norms around their responsible development and use. We’ve been thinking about these issues for a while, and we’ve built teams and processes that are focused on ethics, safety, security, and privacy in addition to empowering everyone across FRL to uphold the principles.

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The principles are: Never Surprise People, Provide Controls that Matter, Consider Everyone, and Put People First. Our intent with these principles is to further operationalize our approach to building responsibly. These principles are just a starting point and will continue to evolve as we further engage experts as well as the people who use our products and developers who build for our platforms.

If we want to empower our users and developer community, we must equip them to make informed decisions. This is especially true for the technologies we’re creating at FRL because they are new. This increases our responsibility to inform users and make control options understandable and accessible.

This responsibility exists from the very beginning phases of product development and continues throughout a product’s lifecycle — each time we ship new functionality or controls, we want our customers to understand how our products work, the data the products collect, and how that data is used over time. Everyone across FRL understands their responsibility in upholding these principles, so we asked a few employees to share how their teams are working to Never Surprise People:

Novel product development and testing

Monisha Perkash, Product Manager in AR Hardware: “AR devices will change the way you interact with the world around you and connect with the people closest to you, in a more personal, seamless way. But, of course, we won’t get there overnight. We’ve been very open about our plans to build AR glasses, and bringing this AR vision to life is a multi-year effort, with lots of experiments, prototypes, and learning. We know there will be questions — and we want to address those early, even before we have a product in market. It’s why we first announced our smart glasses partnership with EssilorLuxottica last year. It’s why we published an overview of our approach to product testing in the wild and why we’re putting guidelines in place to protect bystanders. We want to make sure the community at-large understands the steps we’re taking to create useful products and feels confident that we’re doing it in a responsible way.”

Improved reporting in Horizon

Arthur Bodolec, Product Designer, & Ayfer Gokalp, UX Researcher: “In Facebook Horizon, our mission is to create meaningful connections between people and foster a strong sense of community for everyone who joins Horizon. You can explore an ever-expanding universe of virtual experiences built by the community, easily meet up with friends, or explore with new people. However, we want everyone to feel in control of their VR experience and safe on our platform. That’s why we created a feature to make it easier for people to submit reports in Horizon. We want to make it as quick as possible for people to let us know of a painful incident without having to remain in the situation to collect evidence for us. You can read more about the feature here. In creating this feature, we not only thought about ensuring transparency around data collection, but we also wanted to ensure that people would understand how this feature works within their Horizon experience. To accomplish this goal, we provide a clear disclosure about the feature before entering Horizon to set expectations, present a reminder of how the reporting feature works before it is used, and have a section on our Oculus Help Center which explains how the reporting system works from any device.”

Logging in with Facebook 

Matt Hural, Product Manager: “Last year, we rolled out an important change to Oculus devices. Beginning in October 2020, everyone using an Oculus device for the first time would need to log in with a Facebook account. While this was a big change for people who use Oculus devices, we recognized it was in the best interest of our community because using a VR profile that is backed by a Facebook account and authentic identity helps us protect our community and makes it possible to offer additional integrity tools. This change also makes it easier to find, connect, and play with friends in VR. We knew that because of this shift, we had the responsibility to help people understand what this change meant for them. That’s why we proactively communicated across multiple mediums. From our packaging and our website to in-product education and our FAQs, we aimed to be as transparent as possible about what this change means for people and their data. It was important for us to ensure that people felt they had all the information before they went out and purchased a device. We also knew it was paramount to communicate early with our current users, so we created a legacy period so that they could continue to use their existing accounts for over two years after the change and still be able to access their devices in some capacity after that period ends.”

Accessibility VRCs

Mari Kyle, Game Producer: “Accessibility is one of the most important aspects to any piece of entertainment media content. In gaming especially, accessibility features are important for games and applications to be playable to the broadest possible audience. Across different gaming platforms and surfaces, you will often see standards in place to ensure that the games distributed on those platforms are accessible. These standards include things like display settings, subtitles and captions, and controller configurations. Here at Oculus, as our user base grew, there was a growing hunger for accessibility features in our games and applications to accommodate different user needs. That’s why we created the 8 Virtual Reality Checks (VRCs) for Rift and Quest intended to make Oculus apps more accessible and broaden awareness around accessible design. However, there are far fewer resources for our developers regarding accessibility in VR. We recognized that if we wanted to set a standard for our content to embrace accessible features, we needed to build resources, deepen developer education, and engage with the community to ensure we were on the same page. To ensure that our developers had the necessary information to implement the VRCs, we launched the “Designing Accessible VR” developer doc, which delves into the nuances of accessible design, provides examples, and details solutions and testing scenarios. We also created a video tutorial to visually walk through key accessibility topics and further illustrate how best to design more inclusive applications. A key part of this initiative is starting a conversation with our developers and community. To make sure we account for developer challenges and needs, we started the Oculus Accessibility Forum. This forum was created so that developers, Oculus users, and Oculus employees could transparently discuss the work that needs to be done around accessibility. Accessible design isn’t always easy, but it’s always what we must strive for. When we were working on these VRCs we put a lot of thought into how to ensure developers had the adequate resources and time to understand how to create accessible VR experiences. That's why these VRCs are recommended rather than required for the moment. When it’s time for us to switch to requirements, we will take into consideration developer response and application performance against these VRCs.”

We know how important it is to communicate policies and practices to help our users and developers make informed decisions. While we strive to build products that excite and delight, when it comes to what data our products collect, how that data is used, and how our products work, there is no room for surprises.

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