Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is all in on the metaverse — a term that essentially refers to an immersive, interconnected world that inhabitants can access through devices like headsets or glasses.
On Monday, Facebook announced it’s hiring 10,000 workers in the European Union to develop the emerging platform. And The Verge reported Tuesday that the company plans to change its name to reflect its news focus on the metaverse. (The company has declined to comment about the reported name change.)
As a self-proclaimed futurist — read: proud tech geek — the coming era of immersive technology truly excites me. I spent years working for one of largest telecommunications companies in the world, and I used that time to obsess over the ways society will be changed by immersive platforms like the one Facebook is trying to build. That’s why I’m excited — and scared— by what’s to come from Facebook’s metaverse project.
The development and expansion of high-speed internet are going to make possible in the future things that were previously only seen in movies.
I’ll start with the exciting stuff: The immersive world has the potential to be awesome! The development and expansion of high-speed internet are going to make possible in the future things that were previously only seen in movies. We could see virtual reality concerts or access classrooms or even workplaces via headset. Developing infrastructure to support immersive technology as Facebook is doing could impact commerce, but it could also change important industries like health. Hooray!
Now for the scary stuff.
What I fear most is Facebook’s domination over the technology that might be used to access the metaverse. Currently, Facebook’s VR headsets are some of the most popular, least expensive VR devices on the market that don’t require you to insert a phone or plug them into a computer to use. The trade-off is that you must use your Facebook account to use Facebook’s VR devices, and you can’t make a fake account.
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Let’s go over this: Facebook, a company currently facing criticism for the ways it nudges and manipulates its users, is going all-in on creating a new, more immersive world for those users. That’s unsettling.
In its Tuesday report about Facebook’s potential name change, The Verge said a rebrand could “serve to further separate the futuristic work Zuckerberg is focused on from the intense scrutiny Facebook is currently under for the way its social platform operates today.”
But Facebook’s metaverse goals aren’t separate from its goals as a social media company. Just like in the digital world, Facebook collects massive amounts of data about its VR users that could make us all just as susceptible to manipulation in the metaverse as we are in real life.
In 2019, a spokesperson for Oculus, Facebook's VR brand, told Road to VR, “We don’t collect and store images or 3D maps of your environment on our servers today.” (“Today” being the operative word in that statement.)
The new, immersive world is full of potential, and there is much to be excited about. But we need to continue scrutinizing companies like Facebook as they embark on ambitious projects like the metaverse. As the self-proclaimed architects of our future world, they deserve it.
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