Imagine living in a virtual space that merges the physical and digital worlds — and is built by Facebook.
It may sound like the stuff of nightmares, but Mark Zuckerberg hopes to make it a reality. Yup, the 37-year-old billionaire wants to build a metaverse.
“You can think about the metaverse as an embodied internet, where instead of just viewing content — you are in it,” he told The Verge.
In Zuckerberg’s vision, the metaverse will be accessible across VR, AR, PCs, mobile devices, and game consoles:
I think that this is a persistent, synchronous environment where we can be together, which I think is probably going to resemble some kind of a hybrid between the social platforms that we see today, but an environment where you’re embodied in it.
Inside the metaverse, Zuckerberg imagines us jumping into 3D concerts from our phones and sitting together as holograms on couches.
“This is something that I’m spending a lot of time on, thinking a lot about, we’re working on a ton,” he said.
Something incredibly bad is about to happen pic.twitter.com/6URGtt7E2a
— District Sentinel (@TheDCSentinel) April 23, 2021
The concept of a metaverse is intriguing… but I don’t want Facebook to build it.
Life in the metaverse
An immersive metaverse could supercharge the misinformation, surveillance, and harassment that’s already rampant on social networks.
Facebook’s data harvesting may also become vastly more intrusive, as VR expert Verity McIntosh told the BBC:
Now it’s not just about where I click and what I choose to share, it’s about where I choose to go, how I stand, what I look at for longest, the subtle ways that I physically move my body and react to certain stimuli. It’s a direct route to my subconscious and that is gold to a data capitalist.
Facebook’s track record doesn’t make me optimistic that our privacy will be protected. I’m also wary of how ads will be delivered in the metaverse, and its potential to exacerbate the digital divides that deny many people access to services.
Zuckerberg does say he wants the metaverse to be an interoperable and open system that’s run by multiple companies and creators. But Facebook’s history of buying rivals and stifling competition makes me skeptical about his claims.
Even if the virtual space is operated collaboratively, I’d be concerned about how it’s governed. Tech firms aren’t generally fans of external regulation.
None of this is to say that a metaverse is a bad idea. After 18 months of pandemic life, the idea of teleporting to a virtual island or catching up with holograms of family abroad is incredibly attractive. I just hope that Facebook won’t be watching our every move.
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