Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve no doubt heard of the metaverse and the major tech players who are lining up to become dominant players in this next iteration of our online lives. The metaverse is intended to create virtual communities in which augmented reality and other immersive forms of experiential tech give the user a more tangible way to see, touch, and feel aspects of the digital world. Facebook believes in the concept so much that they officially adopted the corporate name Meta. That’s how much you’re going to be hearing about the metaverse in the weeks, months, and years to come.
The interesting thing about the concept of the metaverse is that it is intended to amplify the ability to collect, process, and ultimately understand people better. In essence, through augmented reality and other immersive forms of digital interaction, users can interface within a more experiential virtual space, but this very capability of enabling immersive user experiences means that more information about the user can be captured.
The critical question is whether the enhanced immersive experience is worth the next layer of personal data which providers (and other entities) can glean from users. We’re not talking about purely textual data with the metaverse but a host of associated non-textual information (based in visual and auditory digital communications) that still betrays an enormous amount of private information about us. In the end, this type of information can identify us just as much as a social security number or other types of text-based PII. Once captured, how will all this extra information about us come back to haunt us?
Data Privacy Concerns in the Metaverse
Solving the problem of data privacy within the metaverse will be two-fold—how much of this data can be kept safe through data protection measures at the device and software level, and how much can users themselves develop a much stronger set of best practices to keep their own private information safe?
The one nearly undeniable assumption is that where the users go always becomes a hot destination for threat actors of all sorts. This principle applies equally to vacation destinations and to AR-based digital destinations. Threat actors thrive on information. As a matter of fact, that is the one commodity that they need (everything else is just a means to get to information) in order to achieve their desired outcome, which is personal gain.
In a metaverse designed to magnify and multiply the amount of personal information about each participant in the experience, how much are the architects and early vendors factoring in the increased amount of threats posed by bad actors? The level of trust you place in these entities says a lot about either your awareness of or appetite for increased personal risk.