The metaverse and consumer data: here’s what you need to know
The gathering of consumer data is a notoriously fraught topic. Here’s a look at how things might get even messier when the metaverse goes mainstream – and why marketers should care.
The metaverse is likely to introduce new possibilities for the collection of personal data / Adobe Stock
If the current version of the internet is anything to go by, consumer data in the metaverse is going to be a complicated topic.
The metaverse will pose an opportunity to deliver uncharted levels of personal data collection to marketers. At the same time, the adoption of web3 and decentralization will put greater control and ownership of that data back in the hands of consumers.
Here’s how the consumer data landscape is shaping up in the metaverse.
What is the metaverse?
There are almost as many definitions of the metaverse as there are articles on the subject. So it’s no wonder that a NordVPN study found that only 14% of respondents could explain the metaverse in detail.
Perhaps the most comprehensive summary is from McKinsey, which defines the metaverse in the following terms:
“The metaverse encompasses immersive environments, often (but not always) using virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) technology.”
“The metaverse is ‘always on’ and exists in real-time.”
“The metaverse spans the virtual and physical worlds, as well as multiple platforms.”
“The metaverse is powered by a fully functioning virtual economy, often (but not always) built on cryptocurrency and digital goods and assets, including non-fungible tokens (NFTs).”
“The metaverse enables people to have virtual identities, presence and ‘agency,’ including peer-to-peer interactions, transactions, user-generated content (UGC) and ‘world-building.’”
The metaverse is not tied to any one company. It’s an evolution of the internet as we currently know it; rather than just looking at it through a two-dimensional screen, we’ll actually be able to immerse ourselves in a three-dimensional metaverse.
Certain forms of the metaverse already exist. For example, Roblox, Discord and Fortnite are well-established and well-populated. Roblox alone currently has around 50 million daily users, the majority of which are under the age of 16. A sizable portion of a new generation, in other words, is currently growing up with regular access to virtual spaces. Technological advances are happening rapidly, and a growing number of companies and even governments are beginning to invest in the development of blockchain infrastructure and VR technology. The metaverse, it would appear, is here to stay.
And that presents a minefield for data privacy.
Customer data in the metaverse
User data will almost certainly remain a sought-after item in the metaverse. Customer data is used to create personalized experiences today, and this is only likely to increase. As Mastercard’s chief privacy officer Catherine Louveaux recently put it in a blog post: “The metaverse will be data collection on steroids.”
And we’re not just talking about contact information here. The metaverse opens the door for the collection of sensitive biometric data. This is already happening with facial recognition and fingerprint technology included in many mobile devices, but these features are currently on an opt-in basis. Many AR and VR technologies require the tracking of bodily movements – such as eye position – as part of their general use.
The next level of customer data is biometrically inferred data (BID). These datasets come from information inferred from behavioral, physical, psychological and other non-verbal communication methods. Together with AI-based predictive modeling techniques, BID presents a new realm of possibilities for targeting audiences.
Faced with this, is it possible for metaverse users to have any control over their data at all?
Decentralization and the rise of web3
Facebook’s parent company Meta is not the only one trying to establish ownership over the metaverse. As it currently stands, Microsoft, Google and other Big Tech companies are looking to build walled garden environments. In these gardens, all customer data will inevitably be sent back to the company running the show, limiting user control over their own data.
However, the true promise of the metaverse is decentralization through blockchain technology. As Sam Huber of Admix, an in-game advertising company, told The Drum earlier this year: “A company just builds the framework – the equivalent of ‘web standards’ – and creators develop the content. We will see how it evolves, but I believe we will end up with various ‘worlds’ that collectively form the metaverse.”
The blockchain infrastructure of web3 shifts the power away from companies, meaning no one actor is able to host all data. Consumers have a more active role in deciding which brands they share their data with.
Quality over quantity – even in the metaverse
I believe in quality over quantity when it comes to customer data. The metaverse opens up the possibility of unparalleled levels of personal information. However, the fundamental challenges of current data policy will not simply go away.
Data is only as useful as the insight and actions that marketers can glean from them. If companies can’t even use the reams of data they already have, is more granular data going to be useful? Our 2022 Consumer Survey showed that the majority of brands are still not delivering true experiential personalization and are therefore not making the most of their current datasets. More data is not going to help with this.
Marketers must learn to deliver the right message, at the right time, in the right digital space in order to maximize their ROI. The same rule will apply in the metaverse.
Michael D Fisher is chief executive officer of 3radical.
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