With the metaverse in its early stages, organizations and people have the opportunity to shape the metaverse responsibly. I strongly believe, and I hope not to be the unique, the metaverse has the potential to radically transform the digital—and global—economy, but many questions remain.
During the last two weeks I have been lucky enough to attend different events, some as a speaker, about the metaverse. Which has given me the opportunity to exchange impressions with different profiles, from experts in the field, crypto enthusiasts, and especially non-believers. This situation is exceptional for what is conveyed about this issue and what concerns the public.
The main take away is that if we agree that the metaverse is an inevitability, then it is our moral obligation to build one that is safe, private and secure. With the advent of the metaverse, we are going to have to rebuild, redefine and relearn so many things we take for granted in the “real world.”
How the metaverse evolves is still somewhat unknown, but we do know that some very large companies will spend billions rolling out their own ideas of what it will look like. Everybody knows about Facebook stepped in and transformed itself (and its name) towards a new concept of a personal, customized, and interactive virtual world that it is building while burning $500 billion of market cap in the process. Apple — the world’s largest company in terms of market value — is said to be working on augmented reality glasses that will put it squarely in the metaverse. The company already has augmented reality tools for its iPhone and other products I’ve already mentioned Microsoft, the second most valuable tech company, with its early development of the HoloLens AR glasses, its X-Box gaming platform and now, its acquisition of Activision Blizzard.
But what is clear right now is some people define it as the “Wild, Wild MetaWest”. A lawless land that few dare ventures into — but just like the old west, some people are ready for the metaverse. Instead of old-fashioned bandits and outlaws, they’re called hackers, scammers and various other names. When companies and users decide to adapt the technologies of the coming metaverse, they will also expose themselves to a new class of security risks and vulnerabilities.
Just as the internet created challenges for safety, privacy and security, the metaverse will add even more challenges. Safety experts worry about stalking, bullying and uncivil behavior in virtual or mixed reality worlds. The metaverse could provide forums for misinformation and manipulation.
The most dystopian possibility for the metaverse is the impact it could have on its users’ mental health. Most immediately, the problem of harassment will be something that developers of virtual environments will have to address. This has been a problem in virtual spaces for a long time, and plenty of options to combat it exist.
Other potential mental health issues will arise from long-term immersion in virtual worlds. While spending too much time in VR platfoms the users would experience a feeling called “phantom timeline syndrome” where the lines between the virtual world and physical world became blurred. You are not be able to distinguish reality from VR, even when you step out of VR and you still feel like whatever is around you is VR. This will be a particular danger to children who grow with the metaverse.
Lack of regulation
As there are few regulations on the internet today, it is easy to see how there would be few regulations on a future metaverse. This lack of regulations can cause serious issues, like privacy concerns, or court cases over intellectual property ownership. There are also risks profiting regulations and taxation. As many current metaverse companies, like online games, make profits in cryptocurrency, there need to be regulations in place to address issues with this currency and the revenue streams. Most global governments just haven’t modernized their legal infrastructure to deal with a future metaverse yet and need to soon.
There is also the danger for personal data theft. As metaverse platforms would be able to collect images and other personal details of their users. This is not something new, as all of us are suffering on the web so it’s no surprise that people are fearful of this continuing, or even intensifying, in a future metaverse.
Although with the decentralized metaverse, the personal information shared will be owned and managed by the user, new regulations to deal with the future of this technology or the adequate safeguards to deal with the exponential personal information that these environments will collect are required.
In the real world, as tangible human being, we are what we are. In the Metaverse the existence begins with avatars. That identity is questionable and hard to confirm who they are in a way that you could trust. What about the inevitable presence of bots? What are going to be their objectives and how to differentiate them?
Another important point is to determine what happens if by mistake, an exact copy of your digital self is created or restored from a backup. How to determine which version should continue to exist?
Prepare for challenge
So, which is the plan and commitment of the metaverse company builder to privacy, security or mental health of the users?
In order to protect their data and their employees’ privacy, companies will need more than a just a few policy changes. Enterprises will need to plan ahead how they will ensure their platforms are not being abused either externally by hackers or internally by unethical managers intent on violating the privacy of their colleagues and subordinates. This step into the metaverse will transform organizations significantly over the next five to 10 years.
Rather than waiting for the technology to be knocking on the door, organizations should take a proactive approach to the topic by starting to address the conversations at the organizational and governmental level.
However, we must not forget that from the prism of a decentralized metaverse, we as users must be at the center and we have the moral responsibility to help design it in an ethical, inclusive and transparent way.
We still have time to build the metaverse with the lessons learned and experienced in the evolution of the Internet, where web2 is run by large corporations that profit from user data.
The metaverse is everyone’s responsibility!