Although still in its early stages, the Metaverse is well on its way to becoming a full-blown reality. This monumental achievement was only made possible by the pandemic speeding up the implementation of VR and at-home digital services and by the subsequent penetration of these services among all demographic groups, especially younger people.
But as the world steams forward into the great digital unknown, very few people are asking the fundamental question: is the Metaverse what humanity needs right now?
Obviously, only time will tell what new technology will do for the global good. Still, it's already apparent that the Metaverse already presents a lot of worrying challenges, especially when it comes to the right to privacy.
Right now, both online and offline conversations about the Metaverse revolve around just trying to figure out what the Metaverse is and what it is for. In this article, we'll dive a little deeper into the Metaverse concept and what it could mean for privacy in the not-so-distant future.
What is the Metaverse?
What is the Metaverse? The Metaverse is the next evolution of the internet, but what that means exactly will continue to change and develop over the next ten years radically.
In short, the Metaverse is a virtual environment in which we will all connect using different devices that will make us think that we are inside of it. It's like entering a new world through virtual reality glasses. Although it may seem like a unique and modern buzzword, the concept dates back to the debut of a science fiction novel in 1992.
To understand how the Metaverse will evolve the internet, we have to know how the internet itself has changed over the years. First, there was Web 1.0, the information highway in the mid-1990s. Then, towards the end of the 2000s came Web 2.0 with social networks (a moment we are still living through), and then came Web 3.0, which will be the Metaverse.
In this integrated and decentralized virtual space, there is interoperability of the analog and the virtual through the widespread use of different technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).
So what's the big deal? There are already many virtual worlds, like in video games, so they are nothing totally new. You create a persona or avatar. Then you use your computer to enter that world and have adventures.
The Metaverse, however, aims to create an alternate reality where we may carry out the same activities we do today outside the home without leaving the room, rather than a fantastical world. Think the Sims, but WE are the Sims.
The founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, and other technological big names are racing to build metaverse companies helping to develop a vast virtual network where people can engage and do online activities like buying, attending concerts, or playing video games.
Creating a parallel, entirely online world that we can access using virtual reality would allow us to engage inside it with one another as well as with outside content. It will be like adding a whole new dimension to our lives.
Privacy in the Metaverse
Data privacy and protection regulations were initially created for aspects of 'physical' life and later revised for the internet. Applying them to the Metaverse of the future—a different digital reality that offers a persistent, live, and interoperable experience—is a real challenge.
Some of the problems that will arise in the near future of the Metaverse are:
- The amount and size of the datasets gathered in the Metaverse may continue to increase
- The amount of data sharing necessary for the Metaverse to function might is unparalleled
- The issue of whether privacy regulations are legally applicable in the Metaverse
- Accountability will be tough to enforce, and finding responsible parties will be difficult
Privacy Concerns and Security Issues in the Metaverse
From a privacy point of view, using the Metaverse can be very intrusive, as the data set processed in this environment increases all the time. Any virtual environment is, by design, fully endowed with data and allows the processing of large amounts of information related to users.
The study of the communication of individuals in the Metaverse and the neural interfaces are examples of information analyzed in the Metaverse. Moreover, this information flows back and forth constantly from the individual to the environment and from the environment to the individual.
In the latter case, the projection of slight body variations will translate into the avatars of the people with whom one interacts in the virtual world, revealing information in an unwanted way that can even be exploited by automatic means. And, of course, novel neuromarketing techniques that target people based on behavior and psychology could be employed with terrifying precision.
All the technologies that make up the metaverse environment (social networks, AI, IoT, neural interfaces, etc.) carry their own privacy risks that need to be managed. But in addition, these technologies can generate dangers to rights and freedoms on a scale that is difficult to comprehend.
In the Metaverse, the user experiences events in the virtual world as if they were real and will face all kinds of risks to their privacy—for example, mass surveillance, discrimination, loss of autonomy, fraud, or identity theft. Even the use of personal data, through vulnerabilities in wearable devices or in the virtual environment itself, could pose real physical risks to the health of the users who handle them.
Some of the leading data privacy issues and concerns are:
Lack of legislation
There are few privacy rules in place for the Metaverse right now. This is due to the fact that the area is so new and distinct from earlier platforms. However, since billions of users may use the platform, it's essential to start thinking about how data and individual privacy will be handled in the Metaverse.
Since privacy should be protected from the very beginning, it will be necessary to either update present privacy legislation or implement new frameworks.
Risks of improper data storage
It is super important to consider how these businesses will obtain the data, retain it once they have it, and process people's data.
Will companies be required to use business-focused secure cloud storage? Or can they save information however and wherever they wish? Again, regulation or, at the very least, strong guidelines need to be implemented.
Transparency on the Metaverse and AI
The Metaverse is planned to run on a few fundamental technologies. These include AI, machine learning, augmented reality, and virtual reality.
These technologies use behavioral learning and can quickly and easily gather enormous volumes of personal data. Authorities and the general public will require transparency to ensure their data is utilized and appropriately secured.
Loss of consumer confidence
It is a fact that people do not trust AI tools because they collect so much personal information. Adopting the Metaverse may be problematic if it gets off to a terrible start by ignoring security and privacy.
Consumers want clarity and confidence, and this also means that there is an opening for platforms that comply with security and privacy to gain an advantage.
Privacy in the workplace and the Metaverse
Thanks to the Metaverse world, Metaverse-based workspaces are now a possibility. Workers can (and will) be pressured to adopt a new work ethic or risk losing employment by not complying with one-sided employment agreements and office expectations.
If you work for a metaverse business, you will be required to provide much more personal information to your employer than at a regular brick-and-mortar organization.
Big tech and metaverse ownership
Warning bells are ringing over the privacy dangers that Big Tech's versions of the metaverse present. As a concept, virtual reality doesn't pose a huge privacy risk. Still, in the hands of major tech firms, it presents significant potential, and many big companies have a history of data breaches.
Also, as we've already mentioned, there aren't many restrictions on the data businesses can gather about their customers. Therefore, the potential for intrusive data collecting lingers on in the Metaverse.
Companies Must Have a Data Privacy Strategy in the Metaverse
Before joining the Metaverse, companies must have a strong security and data privacy plan.
Organizations should improve their security procedures and educate users and employees on privacy. They must inform users about the interaction with AI bots and be transparent in all the processes and mechanisms. Moreover, companies should self-regulate to retain customers' confidence and trust, given the possible lack of privacy in the Metaverse.
For example, metaverse companies using AR/VR platforms or devices should be careful to monitor closely for hacker assaults, data breaches, and other antagonistic attacks. Such organizations must also prepare for hostile AI threats and mobilize their security accordingly.
Strict data privacy and security regulations governing the use of personal information must be in place for organizations setting up virtual offices within the Metaverse.
Protecting Customers' Privacy in the Metaverse
The Metaverse is an opportunity to create a better, more secure virtual world that safeguards people from corporate and governmental abuse. Developers should keep that in mind as they build the Metaverse's architecture.
Clear communication with users about data rules and preferences should be incorporated into the base architecture to ensure they only reveal their data when they genuinely want to rather than when they are persuaded to do so by disclaimers buried in dense legalese.
Ensuring user data is encrypted and anonymized is crucial to protecting privacy. Services must make sure to clearly explain to clients that maintaining their privacy is paramount and that they control what information is shared.
If consumers are unaware of the purposes for which their data is being used, the Metaverse will quickly become frightening.
The Metaverse and GDPR Compliance
An important aspect to take into account is the development of the Metaverse on technologies that aim to replace real-world regulation and governance mechanisms with automatic execution rules, as has already occurred in some cryptocurrencies on the blockchain.
That is the possibility of displacing humans in applying rules and laws and replacing them with algorithms that make decisions in a virtual environment. The 'laws' of the Metaverse will have to be contrasted with the GDPR and new regulatory proposals in the EU, the Digital Services Act, the Data Act, the Digital Markets Act, the Data Governance Act, the proposed AI Regulation, etc.
While regulating, it is vital to keep in mind the following:
- Mechanisms to reduce the amount of data that devices and the Metaverse acquire
- The creation of open guidelines for the defense of rights that specify who is responsible for what and how they must submit to regulatory authorities
- Transparency in automated decision-making to prevent prejudice, bias, and abuse
- Adequate device management to safeguard stored data that contains personal information
- Defending users' rights, especially the rights to be forgotten and deleted
- Implement specific privacy measures related to avatar privacy and its digital imprint in the Metaverse to protect users by design and default
- Security, particularly about the accessibility, resiliency, and confidentiality of personal data processed in the metaverse
Will Privacy Survive the Future?
Several threats to data privacy are developing as the revolution of the Metaverse comes into being. The Metaverse has very clear privacy risks, but like all groundbreaking technology, it will come down to humans on how far we allow it to go.
Regardless of what happens with the Metaverse, users must exercise caution when accepting compliance policies requiring personal information disclosure. And, of course, to defend themselves from data breaches and privacy invasions, users must employ internet security solutions.
Using secure cloud storage like Internxt, VPNs, password strength checkers, antivirus software, phishing protection, virus scanners, and other tools are potential strategies users should also think about before, during, and after engaging with the Metaverse.