On October 4th, YUR Fit co-founder Cix Liv spoke out on social media about his frustrations in collaborating with Facebook as an independent developer by saying, “they will block you from the store without reason, break your application, try to POACH YOUR CTO, then copy your app and carrot you the entire time pretending they are going to work with you.” This tweet catalyzed me to reach out to Liv to see if he’d be willing to record his testimony on the record, which we did 6 days later on Saturday, October 10, 2020. Liv was also in conversation with a reporter from Bloomberg for an article titled “Facebook Accused of Squeezing Rival Startups in Virtual Reality” that was just released today, December 3, 2020. Liv is no longer with YUR Fit because he chose to speak out against what he perceives to be the anti-competitive behaviors that he experienced with Facebook.
Another indie VR dev alleging bad behavior by Facebook.@yur_fit founder @CixLiv says Oculus will "block you from the store without reason, break your application, try to POACH YOUR CTO, then copy your app & carrot you the entire time pretending they are going to work with you." https://t.co/laBP0ogawU
— Kent Bye VoicesOfVR (@kentbye) October 5, 2020
Liv sent out some other tweets as well, which provided the catalyst that led to the end of his time at YUR Fit. He told Bloomberg that, “he was forced out of his company after speaking out against Facebook on Twitter about a month ago. He said the venture capital fund backing his startup, Venture Reality Fund, told him that he would have to leave the company if he continued criticizing Facebook.” Bloomberg also reports that VR Fund partner Tipatat Chennavasin “denied telling Liv that he had to leave the company if he kept criticizing Facebook.” Whatever ended up happening, the recording I did with Cix Liv was when he was presumably still working at the company, but I was withholding publication until the wider story was reported and vetted by other professional news organizations.
Bloomberg also reports that there are some larger pending, anti-trust lawsuits against Facebook, and that Facebook’s practices “are now drawing the attention of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, which is talking to developers about their interactions with the company, according to two people familiar with the matter.”
Whether or not the experiences that Cix Liv describes fits into a deeper pattern of the other VR developers is yet to be seen. There may be more folks that either come forward to share their story, or perhaps they’ll be sharing more details with the US Justice Department as a part of this larger anti-trust lawsuit. There’s certainly other VR developers that have come forward starting with BigScreenVR’s Darhshan Shankar and Virtual Desktop’s Guy Godin, who have each experienced their own flavors of alleged, anti-competitive behaviors and shared their stories with me here on the Voices of VR podcast over the past three months.
But there may be insights from Cix Liv’s testimony of his experiences and stories with Facebook that could reveal some deeper intentions that is driving Facebook’s behavior. Matching someone’s desired intent with their observed actions and behaviors over time is never a precise science, but there could some underlying patterns of the mechanics of how Facebook goes about “acquiring, killing, or cloning” competition as a part of their larger business practices. It may be that Facebook has been living within the letter of the law, and if there are transgressions here, then perhaps it will lead to anti-trust law reform in order to deal with the unique dynamics for how technology companies are creating entire platforms and marketplaces that end up being functional monopolies.
US House Judiciary Committee released a 449-page report on whether or not Amazon, Facebook, Apple, & Google are violating US anti-trust law.
— Kent Bye VoicesOfVR (@kentbye) October 6, 2020
The Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890 was written over 130 years ago, and it’s quite possible that the anti-trust legislation is not equipped to handle the unique challenges and behaviors of the major tech companies. So I think it’s really vital to pay attention to what these virtual reality developers are saying they’re experiencing because there could be some bad faith and fundamentally anti-competitive behavior that’s been functionally normalized as “industry standard” for how to run a 21st Century technology firm.
As the power and wealth consolidates into the hands of fewer and fewer companies, then what types of technology policy and legislation needs to be in place in order to foster healthy and vibrant marketplaces and ecosystems? There’s more questions than answers at this point for the entire tech industry, and we should be grateful that Cix Liv was willing to sacrifice so much of his own personal technology career in order to share some of his own direct experiences that may or may not end up helping us all figure out the future of anti-trust legislation in the United States.
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