Last Updated on Thursday, 11 November, 2021 at 11:30 am by Andre Camilleri
Lina Klesper is a Legal Assistant, PKFMalta
Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg announced plans to hire 10,000 people in the European Union to build the “metaverse”, a virtual reality version of the internet.
What is the metaverse?
It can be described as the internet brought to life as a 3D virtual environment that one can actually participate in virtual reality and not just watch on a screen. In this doppelganger universe people can meet, work, shop, socialise, play, take trips or go to a concert with the help of virtual reality headsets, augmented reality glasses, smartphone apps or other devices.
As Facebook stated, it would take 10 to 15 years to develop compatible products for the metaverse.
Why in the European Union?
According to Facebook the EU has a number of advantages that make it a great place for tech companies to invest – a large consumer market, first class universities and, crucially, top quality talent.
Is the metaverse exclusively a Facebook project?
Tech companies will have to work together and agree on a set of standards to connect their online platforms to each other to avoid people living in either a Facebook or Microsoft metaverse.
Facebook has bought Oculus and has already launched meeting software for companies, called Horizon Workrooms, to use with its Oculus VR headsets. However, so far, the hefty prices and rather bad reviews leave room for improvement.
Facebook seems to go big on its vision of the internet’s future expecting to shift the company from a social media enterprise towards a metaverse company trailblazing the digital economy over the next five years. It is even speculated that Facebook is considering a corporate name change and posting its apps under a metaverse-focused parent company.
But just because Facebook is making a big deal of the metaverse does not mean that there are no other tech giants ready to dominate the market. In fact, there are lots of start-ups with immense potential to get a seat at the table or to even rule it.
Video game companies like Epic Games (Fortnite) and Roblox are also taking leading roles as well as consumer brands like Gucci in collaboration with Roblox, Coca-Cola and Clinique are getting on it, too.
The biggest metaverse enthusiasts, those who hoped and worked for a “Facebook-free” universe, are seemingly concerned about extending opportunities for tech giants to collect personal data and to track and monitor users. It is just logical that it is part of Facebook’s business model to monetise personal data by selling it as targeted advertising in the metaverse.
This definitely raises privacy concerns involving all the issues the world is facing with more to come as the metaverse and its mutants are still to be discovered. One can imagine that a virtual world will require even more personal data offering greater potential for abuse and misinformation. In light of the current situation that problems stemming from such tech platforms are still to be solved and taken care of, it can be questioned if the privacy implications of the metaverse are being overlooked and ignored.
If Facebook cannot even seem to protect children and teenagers in this 2D online world from harm and states are struggling in an effort to pass safety legislation, the question is raised – is metaverse such a great idea in the first place?
Legally-speaking, if it is nearly impossible to agree on certain global rules and guidelines concerning the transatlantic differences regarding data protection, many question, how will there be effective protection in the metaverse? It will be one of the biggest challenges of mankind. Just now in the year 2021 the fight of criminal activity in the internet is picking up as seen by the shift in investigations of online crime by the latest joint Europe-US dark web sweep starting to combat the image of the internet as a Wild West lawless zone.
The metaverse could be the future or it could be the last grand vision by Zuckerberg that doesn’t turn out as expected or isn’t widely adopted for years.
For sure it is a welcome distraction for Facebook from the crises hitting it such as antitrust crackdowns, testimony by whistle-blowing former employees and concerns about its handling of misinformation. Only time will tell if a future generation will be amused to virtually interact with its peers via metaverse screens and help turn Zuckerberg’s dream into a reality.