TThe concept of “metaverse” first came from the 1992 science fiction novel Snow accident as a place that people flee to escape a dangerous world dominated by business. It has since referenced a range of virtual experiences that have grown in popularity during the pandemic – including video games such as Fortnite, non-fungible tokens or even online meetings and events.
But in recent weeks, the term has grown in popularity – and has raised concerns about its potential ethical and societal implications – after Mark Zuckerberg said that in five years, Facebook would be a “metaverse company” and declared it the “successor to mobile internet”.
Sharing his vision for what it might look like, the founder and majority shareholder of the $ 1 billion (£ 750 billion) company described an online world where people wearing virtual reality headsets – Facebook also owns Oculus, the virtual reality platform – wouldn’t just see content. but be inside. It would be an online space built by companies, creators, and developers where people could also live their lives – virtually attend shows and even work.
In Washington, Facebook’s political push to promote the metaverse is already said to be in full swing. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, and Nick Clegg, its vice president for global affairs and communications, are leading the lobbying campaign. On Monday, Clegg is expected to present the company’s plans for how the Metaverse could reshape society in a talk titled Journey to the Metaverse.
According to Washington post the company is in conversation with think tanks about metaverse standards and protocols – a move that some observers say allows the company to deflect discussion of issues such as the antitrust lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission last year .
But experts fear that with regulations still struggling to catch up with the impact of the first wave of social media, the metaverse is likely a way for companies like Facebook to capture and enjoy even more data. They also warn that more foresight and government protections are needed to counter the risk of people’s space and lives being invaded by big technology.
“I know that this is not necessarily a popular opinion but I think that the harm that we see after the fact, for children especially but also for adults, is worrying enough that it makes more sense to work on it. put in place governance arrangements – checks on transparency, data protection, etc., and harm, especially for children – before these companies are allowed to come forward, ”said Robin Mansell, professor new media and the Internet at the London School of Economics.
While for most people the metaverse is an abstract term, the internet giants are already investing a lot of hope – and money. Facebook recently launched a virtual reality meeting service, Horizon Workrooms, where people gather remotely with headsets and meet as if they were physically there in an online virtual meeting space.
It also launched Ray-Ban Stories, its first “smart glasses” with two cameras, a microphone, a speaker and a voice assistant. Meanwhile, Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella said the company is investing heavily in the “business metaverse.”
Mansell said the socio-political issues associated with the metaverse will be identical to those of existing social media platforms, such as Facebook – including data, oversight, regulation, and representation of gender, race and ethnicity. But in the immersive world of the Metaverse, they will be on a much larger scale. She believes tech giants should be forced to wait until launch until there is “clarity on how they’re going to be governed.”
“To me, it seems like this is just another step in monetizing data for the benefit of Facebook and other big platforms that are sold to people as fun, exciting, useful for workplace productivity, etc.,” he said. she declared.
Scott Galloway, professor of marketing at NYU Stern School of Business in New York City, said Zuckerberg was at the heart of why the Metaverse was gaining attention. “The idea that he has decided that the only way to increase our attention is to become the universe is one of those problems when you sit down and think about it too long, it feels like it can’t. go nowhere. “
He added, “I don’t think people are afraid of the Metaverse, they are afraid of the Zuckerverse. And that’s what he accomplished on social media. There are more people getting their information from Facebook than people in the Southern Hemisphere plus India.
Dr David Leslie, head of ethics at the Alan Turing Institute in London, said the metaverse would provide a “way out” to solving society’s biggest problems.
The concept, he said, poses ethical questions around everything, who builds it and controls it, the risk of losing “the safe space of privacy” and an unrepresentative virtual population. “There is a risk that in terms of socio-economic, gender and ethnic composition, the population of the metaverse will be unbalanced. We do not live in an age where there is equitable access to the types of infrastructure that one would need to engage in these technologies.
Dr Brent Mittelstadt, senior researcher in data ethics at the Oxford Internet Institute, said the potential social impact of the metaverse is far from certain. “If that was as disruptive as, say, people having virtual dates rather than meeting each other, being able to say what effect that would have on the nature of relationships would be very difficult in the same way as predicting the impact of social media. have had when we talked about it just as an idea.
But, he said, if Facebook can manage to get you to spend a lot of time there, it achieves its goal of collecting more data and monetizing it. “Suddenly you have more data sources than there are currently, which are combined and routed through this one thing – the metaverse. And if Facebook is successful, you would obviously be spending a good deal of your time there. “