People keep talking about how the Metaverse is coming, but that’s not true; it’s already here. It’s been growing, developing and evolving around us over the last few years as we increasingly spend our time in interactive spaces. The Metaverse is the next stage of the internet’s evolution as 3D experiences further blur the line with reality.
This evolution is bolstered by a new generation growing in the age of cryptocurrencies, changing the way we approach transactions and the idea of value.
So it’s already here. But what is it? What does this mean for us and our internet profile? What are the ramifications of its adoption? Why are big corporations investing so heavily into it? The rise of the Metaverse is similar to the rise of blockchain which was seen as a fad in 2015 but has risen to huge prominence in 2022.
Like Blockchain technology, the Metaverse will shape the way we interact, consume content and do business. The Metaverse’s emergence will change the way we perform everyday activities; working, attending events, shopping and socialising by translating them into a parallel digital universe.
What is the Metaverse?
So, to answer our first question, what is the Metaverse? Understanding the impact of the Metaverse begins with understanding what the Metaverse itself is. The word itself translates to “beyond the universe” but that doesn’t help much.
Facebook defines the Metaverse as a virtual space where people can establish and interact with other people regardless of where they are. It is the concept of a future iteration of the internet, made up of a persistent, shared network of spaces linked into a virtual space. Quite simply, it is a virtual world where you can interact with other people and places through an avatar.
It will allow us to reach beyond what physical limitations prevent us from achieving. We know the Metaverse will be a space where you can interact with anyone or anything anywhere in the world; a culmination of virtual reality and augmented reality.
The Question of Anonymity?
As digital resources become more and more critical to us, they’re being linked together more tightly. We’re not yet at a point where everything is integrated into one single personal account, that seems to be where things are headed, specifically when it comes to using platforms like Facebook and Google accounts as the gateway to many other platforms.
Many of the digital privacy worries of today like identity theft, stolen data and targeted ads can be traced back to the very thing that made Facebook successful; getting people to register and give copious amounts of information about themselves in order to connect with others. Before the advent of Facebook, pseudonyms were much more widespread and people were not comfortable sharing a lot of personal information openly.
With Facebook having people’s names, connecting payments through methods like Apple Pay and Google Pay and purchasing profiles on sites like Amazon, most internet users now have an online persona that accurately shows who they are and how they interact in the digital world. As we know, there are already significant privacy implications from having all of these things connected, leaving data vulnerable to hacks and theft.
Shifting our lives into the digital realm is like putting your life into hot storage where it’s always accessible and vulnerable, as opposed to cold storage where only you control it. The shift towards the metaverse and one single profile for all of your interactions could mean that it is easier for hackers and thieves to access data, meaning your privacy is more at risk.
Redefining Data Protection & Privacy
Just as it was with the rise of social media, the growth of the Metaverse is happening faster than regulators can react to it. Given Facebook’s less than stellar history with data stewardship and their new face, Meeta, being intent on monopolising the Metaverse, the gap between innovation and regulations to guide that innovation (such as GDPR) leave room for Meta to set the bar for privacy and security in the transfer of these new data types.
This could lead to the bar being set low, and other Metaverse providers following suit but as regulations tighten up the responsibility to responsibly and effectively handle Metaverse data may end up being a competitive advantage leading to a rise in third-party services that can archive and catalogue data with the greatest security.
Legal Considerations in the Metaverse
Compared to social media, metaverse platforms can and will track users in a much more intimate manner. As avatars develop and become more realistic, companies can monitor physiological responses, vocal inflexions, facial expressions and vital signs, all in real-time.
This means that, in the Metaverse, a user will no longer need to proactively provide personal data by opening up their smartphone and accessing their webpage or app of choice. Instead, their data will be gathered in the background while they go about their virtual lives.
The depth of this information will help companies gain a deeper understanding of users’ behaviour and patterns, which can be used to tailor marketing in an extremely targeted way.
This comes with great data protection responsibilities. Businesses developing, or participating in, the Metaverse will need to comply with data protection legislation when processing personal data in this new environment. The nature of the Metaverse raises several issues around how that compliance will be achieved in practice.
Additionally, the legal implications of using artificial intelligence (AI) will be another aspect to consider given its prevalence in biometric technologies. In recent years, companies utilizing AI technologies have attracted scrutiny for the unlawful mass surveillance and collection of biometric data.
Privacy Laws wIll Expand With the Metaverse
It is expected that regulatory developments surrounding individual consent and the collection and transfer of data will properly protect personal information in an evolving digital space. Although jurisdictions have made efforts to modernise their digital privacy laws, regulations will require constant updating to keep up with a rapidly changing landscape.
Having clearer guidelines in place will further ensure adequate consent is sought before using any collected data. As the Metaverse experience becomes more and more immersive, concerns around data collection and use will undoubtedly put pressure on legislative reform.
The development of the metaverse will accelerate in the coming years with commercial applications driving many advertising and cryptocurrency enabled initiatives. Businesses looking at the metaverse will need to be mindful of the privacy considerations and ensure that best-in-class practices are employed, both in the development of and participation in the metaverse.
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