Facebook is facing another antitrust probe, this one over Oculus

Germany's Federal Cartel Office says forcing Oculus users to adopt Facebook accounts is an abuse of power.

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Facebook is having a very bad week. Less than 24 hours after the FTC announced it would be suing the social media company, a German watchdog launched an official antitrust probe into Facebook’s Oculus virtual reality products.

Germany’s Federal Cartel Office, also known as the Bundeskartellamt, announced today that it has “initiated abuse proceedings” against Facebook to examine the linkage between Oculus and Facebook, TechCrunch reports.

“Linking virtual reality products and the group’s social network in this way could constitute a prohibited abuse of dominance by Facebook,” said Andrea Mundt, President of the Federal Cartel Office. “With its social network, Facebook holds a dominant position in Germany and is also already an important player in the emerging but growing VR (virtual reality) market. We intend to examine whether and to what extent this tying arrangement will affect competition in both areas of activity.”

This isn’t the first complaint the Bundeskartellamt has filed against Facebook — and it’s definitely not the first concern we’ve heard over Facebook’s aggressive acquisition techniques. It'll be a while before we find any settlement in these complaints, though.

Folding it all in — Germany’s latest probe centers not on Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus in 2014 but rather on the company’s more recent decision to erase what remained of the Oculus brand from its servers.

The problem: Oculus VR headsets now require users to link a Facebook account to the device in order for it to operate properly. That’s something Oculus founder Palmer Luckey said in 2014 would absolutely never happen. Luckey subsequently exited the company, though, which put paid to his ability to influence it.

Right now Oculus accounts do technically still exist, but beginning in October users were required to link them to Facebook accounts — and deleting or even temporarily deactivating the linked Facebook account now erases any games you’ve purchased.

Now we wait — It’s going to be a while before Germany comes to any conclusions about Facebook’s Oculus operations. The Bundeskartellamt brought another case against Facebook in early 2019 about the processing of user data — and the hearing date for that case was just pushed to March of 2021.

We don’t expect conclusions from the Federal Trade Commission’s case against Facebook any time soon, either. Even in the best of times, a case this large can take years to settle, and our pandemic-stricken times aren’t exactly what you’d call ideal.

Yesterday, Facebook published a statement calling the FTC’s case “revisionist history.” At best, the statement is a sidestepping of the obvious problem at hand; at worst it’s a sort of revisionist history all its own. And it’s probably only the beginning.