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Marketing, the metaverse & future of privacy – with the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower

By Ian Darby | journalist

Cheetah Digital

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February 17, 2022 | 6 min read

An exclusive interview with Christopher Wylie, the renowned whistleblower who cracked open the Cambridge Analytica scandal, took place on February 16, 2022 – covering data privacy, the metaverse, and more.

The metaverse is a term on the lips of most marketers across the globe. That’s unsurprising given the sheer weight of numbers involved when it comes to investment and consumer interest.

For instance, Meta Reality Labs (a sibling unit to Facebook) has committed to spending at least $10bn a year on developing experiences that fuse augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) hardware with software and content. The unit is making thumping losses right now but the commercial potential of the metaverse is undoubtedly vast. It represents a $1tn annual revenue opportunity, according to crypto investment firm Grayscale.

Wylie Christopher

Cheetah Digital interviewed Christopher Wylie, the renowned whistleblower who cracked open the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Yet, from a marketing perspective, there remain many questions to answer. Thorny issues that were addressed by Cheetah Digital, the customer engagement business, in a special edition of its ‘Thinking Caps’ webinar.

It featured a discussion on data privacy and the metaverse with Christopher Wylie, the renowned whistleblower who cracked open the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Wylie also recently published the book Mindf*ck: Cambridge Analytica and the Plot to Break America.

In a one-on-one with Richard Jones, the chief marketing officer at Cheetah Digital, Wylie focuses on addressing some big questions. For instance, who is regulating how the metaverse is being built? Will it be a safe place for users? And what does this mean for brands?

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Watch the webinar on demand here.

The backdrop to this was the evolution of the metaverse as a construct developed by software engineers, who are shaping its future with little-to-no regulation ensuring users have safe places or escape routes. Given that, historically, Meta (formerly Facebook) and other social media platforms have struggled with misinformation, hate speech, and other dangerous content and actions, what’s needed when building the metaverse to ensure the safety of its users and the brands that engage with them?

Who regulates the metaverse?

Wylie considers whether there’s a need for a regulatory body, or some level of societal protections, as the metaverse rolls-out and touches all aspects of people’s lives. This is likely to be a big issue because unlike architects, safety experts and inspectors, ensuring that new buildings have fire exits and non-flammable materials in place, there seem to be few such firewalls built into the early iterations of the metaverse.

The discussion also looks at the likely impact of impending government regulation of social media platforms, both in terms of opting-out and data privacy and creating a safer environment for users to navigate and avoid potentially harmful content.

While they look at the implications for brands, viewers also get a wider perspective from Wylie, including discussion on the scandal at Cambridge Analytica, and the attempt to map and influence US and British voters using Facebook data, psychological tests posing as games, and other off-the-shelf applications of information. As part of this, he shares his view on how people such as Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, made use of personal data to persuade people to adopt ideals that were identified as representative of the “alt-right”.

Wylie brings learnings from his time as an adviser to former clients such as the UK Ministry of Defence, Nato and the US State Department, to discuss how terror organizations such as ISIS radicalized and recruited people online, and considers whether social media platforms and their algorithms played a role in this.

Editing society’s problems

Wylie also explores the issue of how far companies today are taking their data collection and has strong observations on how this could impact on people’s lives in the next 10 years as the metaverse is constructed. Especially in terms of the impact on people and society if they are able to edit painful or unwanted elements out of a VR experience. What happens, for instance, when we create a society where you walk down the street and no longer see homeless people, or social problems?

Wylie also has a take on the value to marketers of data-driven campaigns on platforms such as Facebook as the metaverse evolves, and how brands can best collect and leverage “zero-party” data in an ethical and effective manner.

The webinar concludes with Wylie’s advice on the role the marketing community can play in helping navigate some of these questions around the kind of relationship society should have with technology. And how best to apply rules and regulations that ensure a better environment for everybody involved – audiences, brands, and society.

Sound too good to miss? Watch the full interview here.

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Cheetah Digital is a cross-channel customer engagement solution provider that powers direct-to-consumer relationships across the entire customer lifecycle from acquisition to loyalty in order to deliver growth in customer lifetime value. The Cheetah Digital Customer Engagement Suite enables marketers to create personalized experiences, cross-channel messaging, and loyalty strategies, underpinned by an engagement data platform that can scale to meet the changing demands of today's consumer. Many of the world’s best brands, including Bloomin Brands, Hilton, Walgreens, and Williams-Sonoma trust us to help them drive revenue, build lasting customer relationships, and deliver a unique value exchange throughout the customer lifecycle. To learn more, visit www.cheetahdigital.com.

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