Tip of the Zuckerberg
What is the metaverse and why did I think it was in a movie?
What is the meta verse? Why do we need it? Is it even possible? The metaverse (ever since Facebook’s rebrand to Meta) has seemed like a dystopian movie. However, the implications it has for privacy are very very real.
The metaverse is involved in the new iteration of the internet, Web 3.0. The original term was coined by Nicholas Stephenson to describe a world where people become avatars in a virtual and augmented reality. And it is basically that. Meta are producing VR glasses, gloves etc to create 3D virtual and interactive spaces where you can shop, play games and hang out with friends; everything you do in real- life but in a new digitalised universe. This universe even has its own virtual data economy, a currency of NFT’s (non-fungible tokens) that users can create and sell.
To wrap your head around it, I want you to think back to your childhood. Whether you played Club Penguin or in my case Be Bratz, you probably engaged with a beta version of the metaverse. Each game blurred the line between reality and a virtual world; Connected but in a different universe.
And it seems to be popular. In Fortnite, Ariana Grande’s virtual concert had an average of over 300,000 viewers and investors are buying digital landscapes in immersive worlds such as Decentraland. Someone has paid £340,500 to be Snoop Dogg’s neighbour in the metaverse.
However, this immersive alternative digital environment brings more invasive technology into private spaces, e.g., microphones, tracking devices and haptic sensors, collecting data on every movement or sound you make. If this got hacked — bam national crisis. Secondly, it has invented another data economy. Your digital self can become an NFT and be sold to the highest bidder. NFT scams have already started to appear exposing holes in virtual data transactions. Arguably the real risk is you may be so focused on the virtual economy, you forget the real life data economy you are contributing to.
Baudrillard theorised this descent into a purely simulated world, where the world we immerse ourselves in no longer resembles anything real or tangible. The metaverse is simply a simulacrum where our world is hyperreal- where we cannot decipher what is real or what is a simulation of real. I’d advise watching the Matrix for context.
Meta has set aside $50 million to make sure the programme is responsibly developed, with RealityLabs funding the exploration of authenticating users and potential holes in cybersecurity. However, at the head of this ‘responsible’ development, you have a developer who has previously expressed putting the Meta platform above human life and a politician heading up public affairs.
If you’re optimistic, the metaverse may be a fresh start at getting privacy right or cynically maybe this is the major cybersecurity issue Véliz has predicted. Meta is attempting to be the sole gatekeepers to a universe. Where’s Neo when you need him.