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The Three M’s of the Metaverse: Monitor, Manipulate and Monetize

The metaverse is still the new hype. But a hype that is mostly kept alive by lobbyists, futurists and well paid PR people. At least Meta’s version of the metaverse as implemented in the company’s flagship “metaverse” app (Horizon Worlds) is of a really poor quality, according to an internal memo that has been obtained by The Verge and others. Vishal Shah, VP at Meta, states, “For many of us, we don’t spend that much time in Horizon and our dogfooding dashboards show this pretty clearly. Why is that? Why don’t we love the product we’ve built so much that we use it all the time? The simple truth is, if we don’t love it, how can we expect our users to love it?”

But not only Meta’a own version of the metaverse not all that usable and well crafted according to Meta It is also extremely risky by design. And this goes for all the versions – because there there are many other “metaverses”).

This week Reuters wrote that Europol said it was “preparing for the risk that online immersive environments – the “meta verse” – could create new kinds og cybercrime and allow existing crime to take place on a merger scale”.

Louis Rosenberg, Ph.D. seem to agree in an article in Venturebeat where he says that: “Unless regulated, the metaverse could become the most dangerous place of persuasion ever created“.

In another article, Rosenberg – who is a former Standford and Nasa-researcher – gives his suggestions on how to regulate the metaverse in the paper: Regulating the Metaverse, a blueprint for the future

Here Rosenberg points to other types of risks than terror planning, fraud etc. He points to the fact that: “infrastructure required to enable immersive worlds will give powerful corporations the ability to monitor and mediate intimate aspects of our lives, from what products, services, and information consumers are exposed to, to what experiences they have throughout their day and who they are having those experiences with”. It is about The Three M’s of the Metaverse as he states that core social problems relate to metaverse platforms’ inherent ability to monitor, manipulate and monetize users.

What are the Solutions?
Some of the solutions that Rosenberg mentions in the article are non-regulatory such as shifting from ad-based to subscription-based models in order to reduce the motivation that platform providers have to profile and target their user base. But, as he writes, we cannot expect this to become mainstream anytime soon. After all this is the backbone of the World Wide Web as we know it. He also points to regulatory solutions. Some of those are:

  • Restricting User Monitoring (“platform providers will have access to everything their users do, say, touch and see inside the metaverse”.)
  • Restricting Emotional Analysis (“the metaverse will likely use advertising algorithms that monitor personal features such as facial expressions, vocal inflections, posture, and vital signs including heart rate, respiration rate, blood pressure, and galvanic skin response captured through smart-watches and other wearable devices such as earbuds”. Read more about some of the metaverse patents here.
  • Regulating Virtual Product Placements (“Inside the metaverse, advertisers will move away from traditional marketing methods like pop-up ads and promo videos, instead leveraging the immersive features of the technology. This will include targeting users with promotional artifacts and activities injected into their environment that seem authentic”. 
  • Regulating Virtual People (“If consumers can’t distinguish between real users and artificial agents, they can be misled into believing they are having a natural encounter when really, it’s a targeted promotional interaction”). 

Different initiatives around the globe aim at adresseing the safety issues related to the Metaverse pointing to both non-regulatory and regulatory solutions. One of these are XR Safety Initiative (XRSI), a global non profit Standards Developing Organization(SDO) that promotes privacy, safety, security, and ethics in immersive environments such as the metaverse. 

No matter the hype, we need to get safety and regulation in place. As Rosenberg says in the magazine venture beat: : “If we wait for the problems to become egregious, as with social media, it will be too late to undo the damage”.

After all – poor design is worse than poor safety.

Photo: julien Tromeur