What is Facebook’s Metaverse and How Does it Affect Privacy
By Nick Anderson 5 minutes
Privacy in the digital space is a receding concept in the ever-growing landscape of social media platforms and services that rely on user data for targeted advertisement and tailored experiences. The term metaverse is gaining steam since Meta, previously known as Facebook Inc., announced a name change. But, what is Facebook metaverse exactly? And what are the privacy implications of Facebook’s metaverse?
Allow us to introduce you to the concept and what you can expect to see once metaverse experiences get off the ground and start running.
What is Metaverse?
The term metaverse is not new. It dates back to a 1992 novel called Snow Crash written by Neal Stephenson, who first coined the term to describe a digital world where users can fully interact with each other. For many years, software developers have envisioned a virtual world that allows people to connect worldwide in shared spaces. But it is only now that metaverse is gaining mainstream attention thanks to Meta pushing out its vision for the connected social experience.
Metaverse defines a virtual environment where users can exist as digital avatars in virtual spaces dedicated to something particular. Remember Travis Scott’s concert in Fortnite? That’s one of the examples of the metaverse. Thousands and millions of people partake in a virtual concert through digital expressions, aka avatars of themselves, as they would in real life.
Now, imagine a wedding held in a virtual environment; it could be a church or an exotic destination. The guests of the wedding cheer through unique expressions as the couple say their vows to each other.
It is just one of the examples of metaverse that Meta wants to enable. If you want to understand metaverse better, watch Ready Player One and Free Guy.
Metaverse is the metamorphosis of social media platforms from personalized webpages to virtual environments that provide an escape from the limitations of the physical world; where players can take control of their digital avatars.
There is a lot of buzz, a lot of hype around metaverse. It’s okay if you do not fully understand it; even Facebook is not fully certain how it will shape up. But one thing is for certain; data collection will only increase as platforms move towards metaverse.
What is Metaverse Digital Avatar?
A digital avatar is an expression of your physical self in the virtual world. As you control a character in video games, a personalized digital avatar works the same way, except the character is based on you.
But unlike where characters change between games, the concept of metaverse allows one digital avatar to exist between different services. It’s easy to understand one avatar between Facebook and Instagram since it’s owned by the same parent company, but what Facebook is setting out to do is create a space where other services can also connect.
Most recently, Nike acquired an NFT company named RTFKT which will allow Nike to build its own metaverse where customers can check out and buy and own digital assets unique to them. Imagine Facebook connecting to Nike’s metaverse where your digital avatar can walk in a store and own a unique digital collectible.
How Does Facebook’s Metaverse Affect Privacy?
The immediate question should be how better or worse will privacy be in the metaverse, especially when the first major implementation is being heralded by a company that has been under privacy scandals and federal scrutiny over its privacy practices.
Beneath the excitement of personalized digital avatars that can walk through personalized virtual spaces and interact with friends, metaverse presents companies like Facebook that rely on ads as the primary source of revenue to take its business to the next level. You might see ads in your virtual spaces for things that are relevant to you.
Facebook bought a virtual reality company called Oculus for $2 billion in 2014. Oculus is a tiny fraction of Facebook’s overall business and revenue, but that will change. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) will be key drivers and essential tools for a full-fledged metaverse experience. Technologies like virtual reality allow one to immersive in an interactive virtual world. More robust VR technologies like the one Facebook Oculus develops, let users move around in virtual spaces. So you can move around in the physical space and control certain actions in the virtual world.
It may come as a surprise to you but your movements can also be used as data to identify you. Add that to the growing list of things Facebook knows about you and you have a platform that can track every action in the virtual world.
Should You Be Worried About Metaverse Privacy?
Facebook’s change to the name Meta is also an effort to dominate the metaverse discussions. In the future, it will be impossible to talk about metaverse without talking about Meta. The company is the most prominent player that is pushing for the creation of metaverse.
Facebook (now Meta) does not hold the reputation of a company that has the best interests of user privacy at heart. As much as Mark Zuckerburg, CEO of Meta, insists that Meta will be built responsibly and in collaboration with policymakers, experts, and industry partners, history (and business model) is not on the company’s side. Especially when the company has drawn criticism over the Cambridge Analytica Scandal, the Facebook data breach that exposed user data to third parties, or the series of revelations by a Facebook whistleblower who exposed the inner workings of the company and its leaderships policies.