Playing It Safe When Entering the Metaverse

Meta has announced their metaverse, and it’s creating a lot of mixed emotions. The parent company of Facebook hopes that this will be the successor to the internet, basically a fully 3D space that will replace everything we do today on our phones and computers. Right now, anyone can purchase an Oculus headset, explore spaces and content made by third-party creators, and interact in real-time with others through actual chat “rooms.” Meta’s metaverse isn’t the only one though, and several other companies are working to release their versions shortly. Nobody knows if this is how we’ll connect in the future, but Zuckerberg and other big players are putting a lot of money into making it more of a reality. If one company has the most popular metaverse, they will control what is now our internet and much more.


Meta’s universe, per their website, will be social, collectively made, and centered on privacy. The thing is, privacy has not been a concern of Facebook’s in the past. In 2020, the company was fined another $550 million for violating Illinois state law by collecting users’ biometric data without their consent,including for mapping individual faces to identities. While Apple may have a user’s facial profile for unlocking an iPhone, this data never leaves their device and can only be used for authentication. Facebook’s database could pose countless possibilities of human rights violations, especially when fed with all the additional sensory input a metaverse would require.


There are also concerns around if the Metaverse will be collective and made by the people. On TikTok, users with almost no followers can reach large audiences using specific algorithms, broadcasting current events as they unfold, and sharing content not shown in traditional media. The video platform is, on the other hand, plagued with corporate intervention, censorship, and misinformation. Meta could import something like Instagram Reels, its TikTok competitor, into the verse, but it could still have the same problems. TikTok can control everything their scrollers can see under a policy that is not always the fairest and not decided by the people.

Just like with video platforms, there are other companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft that are all working on similar ideas, hopefully giving us more options to choose from. The Microsoft HoloLens has “augmented reality,” which incorporates both the real world and the virtual into one experience. The headset has glass to allow the wearer to see the world around them, with added virtual objects on top of real ones. Decentraland, a metaverse that’s already released (Grimes performed in it last month) has gained a lot of traction for being made by its people. It’s founded on the idea that their world will be made entirely by their users, and even allows them to vote on content and wearables that are allowed. A large company like Meta releasing their product early will get them hype, but others will exceed in ways that matter more to an individual’s needs, through privacy protection, more natural interaction, or freedom of and access to information.

Which metaverse to pick is going to be a tough choice. Right now choosing a phone or computer from a big company closes the buyer into one particular ecosystem, but allows access to third party apps and the internet. Somebody who has an iPhone will probably use FaceTime rather than another video call app. It might even be one of the reasons they got an iPhone, because so many people call using FaceTime. A virtual universe could mean much more confinement within one ecosystem. Customers of next generation Oculus headset may no longer have the option to use other chat rooms other than Meta’s, as making new ones in three dimensions could be a lot more work. Companies will also want to keep their universes separate, just like Apple and Microsoft’s separation with MacOS and Windows. With projected $1,000-3,000 price tags, we’ll be locked into one ecosystem for a while, and it might be more based on who is already using the platform than the ethics of the maker. The metaverse is a very new market, with lots of big tech hopping on the virtual bandwagon. It reflects humanity’s desire for more immersive technology in an unpredictable world, but with such big, and often corrupt, corporations at the forefront, the consumer’s choice will be a very important decision to make.


References:

“Responsible Innovation Principles,” Meta, about.facebook.com, https://about.facebook.com/realitylabs/responsible-innovation-principles/.


Kovak, Steve, “Apple AR glasses will be as powerful as a Mac and will launch next year, top analyst says,” CNBC, cnbc.com, Nov 26, 2021, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/11/26/apple-ar-glasses-to-launch-in-2022-according-to-top-analyst.html.


Vanian, Jonathan, “Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse may be as privacy flawed as Facebook,” Oct 29, 2021, Fortune, fortune.com, https://fortune.com/2021/10/29/mark-zuckerberg-metaverse-privacy-facebook-meta/.


Wang, Yilun and Michal Kosinski, “Deep neural networks are more accurate than humans at detecting sexual orientation from facial images,” osf.io, Feb 3, 2022, https://osf.io/zn79k/.

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