Digital Transformation

Why Meta’s metaverse goals should fail

By Rob Shavell | Chief Executive Officer

September 2, 2022 | 7 min read

“The metaverse is a solution to non-existent problems,” writes DeleteMe chief executive Rob Shavell. Here he explains why.

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VR presents a host of new opportunities for the collection of biometric data, including eye movements / Adobe Stock

In October 2021, Facebook changed its name to Meta. The reason? To signify the company’s pivot towards the metaverse.

In reality, Zuckerberg and Facebook have nowhere else to go. To survive, Meta needs to revive its most important revenue stream: advertising. Advertising made up 97% of Facebook’s overall revenue, while 3% came from other sources. When Apple introduced its privacy changes last year, it disrupted a status quo that had helped Meta dominate social media advertising. Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature is expected to decrease Meta’s ad sales by a whopping $10bn this year.

The metaverse could be a lifeline. Whoever dominates virtual reality (VR) hardware and experiences will receive a ton of personal information from users exploring virtual surroundings.

In a 20-minute VR session, a headset can produce about 2m data points, including how a user moves, where they look (and for how long) and even their heartbeat. Information like this is vastly more valuable than clicks and likes. As a first-mover in this space, Meta could be back in business.

Unfortunately for Meta, their metaverse will probably fail – at least, many people seem to think so.

Let’s start with VR headsets. “Annoying,” says PlayStation creator Ken Kutaragi in a Bloomberg interview; “they isolate you from the real world.” They’re also uncomfortable and expensive, adds Ryan Jones at Trusted Reviews.

Even if users were willing to overlook these drawbacks, Meta is still years away from creating a VR headset that would make their vision of the metaverse a reality.

Developer John Siracusa thinks that Meta doesn’t “have the skillset” and, historically at least, “has been terrible at everything you need to do for the metaverse.” Tech reporter Mike Isaac from The New York Times adds: “Hardware folks inside of FB basically stress, ‘this is going to take a long time.’”

It’s not just VR headsets that are the problem, though. Meta’s track record at making software isn’t the best either, says Jason Atem from Inc. The company is terrible at moderating content and has a knack for making the user experience worse, not better.

The metaverse is a solution to non-existent problems. People don’t really want to attend virtual work meetings in the metaverse. Nor do they want to shop there. And while meeting people in the metaverse can be fun, it is also “intense, tiring and often awkward,” says Parmy Olson of Bloomberg.

Popular VR use cases – such as gaming or media consumption – don’t need a big tech intermediary.

We don’t need another surveillance machine

We – as in all of us who use the internet – need Meta’s vision of the metaverse to fail.

With its vision of the metaverse, Meta is basically trying to create a proprietary version of the internet, because regulations are making existing models a better place for consumers and worse for Facebook. What’s good for internet users is inherently bad for Meta.

The EU’s GDPR has set a standard for privacy, the FTC is looking to introduce rules that would limit commercial surveillance of people and biometric collection is increasingly a source of litigation risk. A federal privacy bill is also potentially forthcoming.

In the metaverse, none of these rules would apply. And even if they did, they would not be sufficient. Because it’s not just how fast your heart beats when you’re in the metaverse or whether your pupils dilate: it’s what third parties can infer from this type of biometric tracking.

Described by attorney Brittan Heller as “a ‘Like’ button on steroids,” eye-gaze data on its own can be used to enhance behavioral advertising, diagnose medical conditions (even before the user themselves know) and draw conclusions about a user’s sexual attraction. Moreover, because each individual has unique body motions, much of the user data gleaned from VR headsets is impossible to anonymize.

Unable to control the type of data they share, users would need to be able to trust that whoever is behind the metaverse will treat data responsibly. Meta (previously Facebook) does not have a good track record with user privacy.

Rob Shavell is the chief executive officer of DeleteMe.

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