Since the beginning of the Internet, cyberspace has constantly evolved, and we can expect it to continue transforming our lives in the future… but the future may be nearer than you think.
With the emergence of different virtual environments like augmented reality applications, social networks, or virtual worlds, combined with budding technology that is finally catching up with our wildest sci-fi dreams, life as we know it is changing.
At this point in time, we are taking a big step into the mainstream metaverse, which some consider the successor of today’s internet.
Due to the additional outside factors, the transition never seemed more natural. We adjusted to being indoors and in isolation, and now we will experience the world at the leisure of our homes in vast virtual landscapes.
Sounds perfect, right?
What is Metaverse
Metaverse as a concept is a term with origins in sci-fi literature. The term metaverse was coined by Neal Stephenson, who merged two words “meta” and “universe” and introduced it to a broader audience in his ’92 dystopian novel “Snow Crash.“
If you are not too keen on reading, we suggest you watch Speilbergs’ movie “Ready Player One” to get a glimpse of what metaverse could be like.
Metaverse can be described as a blend of physical and digital– an immersive virtual experience that allows people to fully experience a different kind of reality.
As the metaverse expands and technology evolves, the idea is to offer users a hyper-real alternative world.
The cost of transition to Metaverse
Not everyone is eager to jump the metaverse wagon at any cost. Every technological progress comes at a price, and although it seems inevitable, it should not be unconditional.
Metaverses will transform how we interact and socialize with each other, how we travel, shop, and consume information offering online activities we can only imagine.
With this interconnected universe, we can expect new challenges and risks, especially when it comes to our privacy. Metaverses will collect more information about us than any other platform ever before. Hence the consequences will be more severe.
These concerns seem to be magnified with one of the biggest privacy rule-breaker and biggest social networks stepping into the metaverse arena, right after their whistleblower scandal, announcing pompous name change from Facebook to Meta.
There are multiple metaverses, only one META
From today’s perspective, it can be challenging to envision metaverse as a part of our everyday lives.
However, there are multiple metaverses available right now, mainly in the gaming industry (Second life, Fortnite, Sandbox) and if you are not a part of the gaming community, you are probably oblivious of them, but that doesn’t mean they are irrelevant.
With the advance of ultra-fast broadband speeds and technology that supports immersive experiences, we can expect them to slowly creep on us. Zuckerberg estimates it will only take five to ten years.
And we are not talking just about the gaming industry, metaverses will be present in all aspects of our lives, from our work, travel, socialization, shopping, learning and more.
Technology has the potential of creating a massive appeal towards virtual, making metaverse experience fully accessible to everyone. As a result, more users will be plugging in and more data will be circulating through metaverse’s bloodstream.
Therefore, the transformation of Facebook into Meta is a bit worrisome from a privacy perspective. Out of the current world’s population of 7.9 billion people- 2.9 billion are monthly active Facebook users, and 3.51 billion people are using at least one of the company’s core products (Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, or Messenger) each month.
As whistleblower Frances Haugenstated told the UK MP, Mark Zuckerberg “has unilateral control over 3 billion people”, and that is completely true.
An announcement of transition to the world of virtual and augmented reality by a company that has access to almost half of the world’s population, and is notorious for putting profits before consumers at the expense of their privacy- sounds like a plot from sci-fi movies ten or twenty years ago.
There is also one other aspect of AR and VR- it could prove to be an addictive escape from reality as well as a necessity and most individuals will not have the luxury of declining participation.
Can we trust Mark?
Let’s face it Facebook is such a childish name for what it wanted to be. It reflects its beginnings and not what its founder wants it to be, as Mark Zuckerberg explained:
“In our DNA, we build technology to bring people together. The metaverse is the next frontier in connecting people, just like social networking was when we got started.”
He is set out to build a new immersive, virtual world, where you will be able to do whatever you want, shop, play, create, interact, and… apparently other things that we can’t even put in categories yet.
The chances are, you will be part of this metaverse.
Zuckerberg said “Interoperability, open standards, privacy, and safety need to be built into the metaverse from day one,” but can we trust Mark? In other words, can we trust a company that continuously, time after time, puts profits before consumers?
For a company with such an enormous responsibility, Facebook has constantly displayed it lacks moral fibers.
Major privacy concerns
We can expect companies in metaverse to collect personal information for individual identification, advertisement, and tracking through multiple channels, like wearable devices, microphones, heart and respiratory monitors, and user interactions to the extent that we have never seen before.
This could easily lead to a world of no privacy.
Along with the concerns for the way private data will be collected and used, there is also a concern over how metaverses could provide an escape from reality. According to Louis Rosenberg, “the potential to alter our sense of reality, distorting how we interpret our direct daily experiences.”
We highly recommend reading Rosenberg’s thoughts on security and privacy in future metaverses, where he explains how we live with countless layers of technology between us, and those who own those layers can manipulate us:
“Third-parties […] can inject their own content, possibly as a paid filter layer that only certain people can see. And they use that layer to tag individuals with bold flashing words like “Alcoholic” or “Immigrant” or “Atheist” or “Racist…”
In other words, they can strategically place you in a certain context and provide you with content that only selected people can see to bend your reality, form your opinions and amplify divisions between people.
Leaving metaverse will not be as easy as removing AR glasses because we are already too dependent on technology. According to Elon Musk, we are already cyborgs, and leaving metaverse would shut down important aspects of our lives like our work or how we socialize.
Privacy in the metaverse needs to be carefully considered and protected both by users and companies that should start implementing privacy by design when developing technology that we are so dependant on.
According to experts, metaverses will be a fertile ground for big technology firms to gain more power and “[…] exploit their market advantages and mechanisms such as artificial intelligence (AI) in ways that seem likely to further erode the privacy and autonomy of their users.”
Change the way you think about your privacy
When engaging in a simple conversation about privacy just a couple of years ago, the most common reply to why people are not more active when it comes to their privacy was that they have nothing to hide.
And that might be correct. Most people probably have nothing to hide- but the problem is, the world might change. In fact, it is already changing.
The limitation of our freedoms due to the Coronavirus pandemic and the beginning of our subtle yet inevitable move to METAverses, are perfect testaments to this change.
The basic presumption that we have nothing to hide should be abandoned and replaced with “we have something to protect”– and Metaverses could be the first true battlefield that will test how willing we are to fight for our privacy.