VR Users Don't Want Ads, Experts Say

They’ll be right in your face

Key Takeaways

  • Facebook recently announced it's putting ads into its line of virtual reality headsets. 
  • The move has created a backlash, and one game developer has already pulled back from the program. 
  • Some observers say VR ads could be intrusive and present privacy issues.
Woman using VR headset while lit up by red and blue lights

Kilito Chan / Getty Images

Web ads have become ubiquitous, but the idea that they might pop up in virtual reality is making some users wary. 

Facebook announced recently that it would begin testing ads inside its Oculus headsets in partnership with several game developers. But the concept of ads just inches from your eyeballs is already causing a backlash. 

"Besides resulting in a negative experience for users by forcing them to experience ads before they can launch games and other applications, ads in VR raise serious privacy concerns," Ray Walsh, a data privacy expert at ProPrivacy said in an email interview. 

Firing Back Against Ads

At least one of Facebook’s partners is already having second thoughts about VR ads. On Monday, Resolution Games said it decided against in-app ads for its multiplayer shooter game Blaston. 

The company was reacting to a spate of negative reviews posted about its product in the wake of the new ad initiative. "Paid titles should not introduce advertising. It is wildly unacceptable to do so months after purchase," one review stated. 

Privacy concerns are another issue. As time goes on and Facebook rolls out eye-tracking and other advancements in its headsets, the potential for tracking individuals and measuring their interaction with ads will increase, permitting Facebook to harvest data about how users react to marketing, Walsh said. 

"There is no doubt that VR headsets provide an invasive window into people’s homes," he added. "They have multiple cameras, a microphone, and will eventually contain various other sensors that allow Facebook to find out whether an advert is of interest to the end-user." 

Facebook said it’s taking privacy concerns into consideration. 

"While testing ads in Oculus apps, Facebook will get new information like whether you interacted with an ad and if so, how—for example, if you clicked on the ad for more information or if you hid the ad," the company wrote on its website. "Outside of that, this test doesn’t change how your Oculus data is processed or how it informs ads."

A sponsored ad for Jasper's Market in a VR game

Facebook

VR advertising could offer considerable benefits to advertisers, too, Walsh said.

"VR creates a novel, lifelike environment in which people can occupy and interact with each other," he said. "Eventually, social experiences like Facebook Horizon and Venues will provide marketing to users in the same way as the real world does, on billboards, screens, and in other ways that turn VR into an opportunity for targeting personalized ads."

Walsh said Facebook released the Oculus Quest 2 at a low price to corner the VR market and force users to connect their headsets to a Facebook account.

"This was a deliberate ploy to ensure that Facebook could use marketing data gained across those two distinct platforms to serve ads and broaden its profiling of individuals," he added. "The objective of having users connect their Facebook account is becoming obvious as Facebook is already preparing to invade the space with intrusive ads."

Could VR Ads Be Good?

Not everyone thinks advertising in VR is necessarily a bad thing. Hrish Lotlikar, CEO of augmented reality company SuperWorld, says users could benefit from a new kind of advertising. 

"It allows them to better visualize and understand the product and enable them to experience the product in an immersive way before actually buying it," he said in an email interview. 

woman wearing VR goggles and reaching up towards something

Luis Alvarez / Getty Images

Facebook has said that ads will help developers by giving them another means to generate revenue. It plans to expand ads across the Oculus platform and the accompanying mobile app. 

In the future, Lotlikar predicts VR advertising could be so good that it could be entertainment all by itself. 

"Users would pay to see ads to experience a product without even buying the physical object and just own it virtually," he said.

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