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With the release of the documentary The Social Dilemma on Netflix, everyone has the opportunity to take a look under the hood of the major technology companies. Companies that make massive use of your personal preferences. Not only to make your recommendations, but also to influence you to “hang around” as long as possible, so that more money can be earned from you.

Misuse of data?
So now the time has come. The first ethical objections to the use of digital influence are emerging. We marketers and designers have been aware of these types of influencing techniques for a while, but we still happily continue to collect data, the Cialdinis and the Kahnemans are flying around you and try to help brands to improve their customers. to get to know’.
Fortunately, that same documentary also made it clear that collecting data and optimizing touchpoints in the customer journey doesn’t have much of an effect on your customer’s behavior, unless you build a system that knows more about your customers than they know about themselves.
Because it turns out to be difficult with the power that “Big Techs” have gained through the use of personal data, they are being called upon in the US. But since the business model of these companies is all about using that data, it promises to be a long battle.

A new way
Meanwhile, Facebook, one of the main characters in this epic, has taken a new path. With the acquisition of the Oculus company in 2014, it entered new territory: the world of Virtual Reality (VR). For a while it was not understood what Facebook wanted with this, but it has recently become clear.
In October 2020 Oculus released a new device: the Oculus Quest 2. VR glasses that wirelessly provide a good quality VR experience. At the launch, there was disbelief about the price. The successor to the Oculus Quest is 100 dollars cheaper and has much better specifications. That had to be a stunt. And that is it. It can of course be seen as an action to get into the living room from the pocket or a way to appeal to a new audience, but the Oculus Quest 2 has an important, controversial new feature: you have to log in with a Facebook account. use the glasses.

A new experience
VR experiences have been around for years, but still haven’t landed well with the general public. Facebook wants to change that. But why? It could be that Facebook really believes in the promise of VR. A completely new experience that connects people in a completely different way. But looking at Facebook’s business model, that doesn’t seem very obvious.
Another reason could make much more sense. Scientific research has shown that a VR experience can have an enormous influence on the behavior of a person. For example, instead of traditional painkillers, VR is used to relieve pain when changing dressings for people with burns. In a scientific study, 98% of people who were put on Mars via VR experience happily waved back to a drawn Martian without realizing it. And in the Oculus Quest you will find apps that can help you get rid of fear of heights by confronting you virtually with your fear.

Wet dream
Now the virtual environment of the Oculus seems fairly harmless. You can play some games or watch 3D movies. But here too it goes in the same direction as with social media. The same techniques are also used in the game world to keep you playing for as long as possible. You automatically end up in a “bubble” because of the matchmaking algorithms that game makers use to get players of the same kind into a game. And Facebook makes good use of that.
The “main game“Of Facebook is to influence you to” hang on “as long as possible. Now they have seized the opportunity to do this in an environment in which people’s behavior can be influenced much better than via the screen of the telephone. A VR experience is actually the wet dream for every designer, marketer or other digital influencer. A repetition of moves? Or will lessons from the past ensure that ethical boundaries are not so easily crossed this time? Which glove do you pick up to deal ethically with influence?

This article is written by Michel van der Wal, senior manager experience design at EY VODW, and previously appeared in MarketingTribune 19, 2020.

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