Privacy in the metaverse

The big idea behind the metaverse is that we are moving away from Web2, where we lost control of our personal data, to Web3 that relies on decentralized technologies where data owners and creators will be able to monetize their IP – whatever it is.

But new patents filed by Meta throw that assumption into doubt.

Some patents suggest creating even more personalized ads based on a user’s age, gender, the likes and comments they leave on social media, and how long they look at specific ads. There is also talk of reading a user’s facial expressions and adapting content around them, using eye and face tracking technology to enhance the experience (e.g., showing brighter graphics if a user’s gaze falls).

Facebook Meta patents would fill the metaverse with ads

Now, Meta isn’t the Metaverse, and filing a patent does not mean you’ll actually create the functionality. But if your business model relies on getting paid through ads, and you are one of the largest, if not THE largest ad vendor in the world, it’s difficult to come up with something that replaces that income stream. And that means that what you’ll do in the Meta metaverse will be closely watched and examined and will be used to monetize your experience.

Which also means that businesses looking at Horizon will need to understand exactly what is being tracked and what Meta does with that data. Or maybe opt for another vendor that sells a subscription as a business service, without relying on ads. No matter which vendor you choose, make sure you can disable or opt out from tracking, and confirm on a regular base that generic user data is aggregated and can’t be traced back to individual users. Even more important when you have employees in the European Union: the GDPR applies to the metaverse too.

The metaverse is disrupting learning

Learning vendors have been experimenting with Virtual Reality for years. They’ve used it as a replacement tool for cases where real-life situations are impossible, too costly or too dangerous to organize. I wrote about immersive learning in a recent newsletter and gave the example of surgeons who practice for a difficult operation, or engineers who learn how to repair wind farms in the middle of the ocean. But that’s using VR as a tool for personalized learning. This has nothing to do with the metaverse.

But schools are starting to evaluate the metaverse and see it as an opportunity to disrupt the learning industry. The experience with distance learning during the pandemic is accelerating this development to explore the teaching models of tomorrow. School boards are imagining – and creating – virtual campuses, where students can interact with their teachers and go to classes. Where they walk around, listen to speakers and participate in events.

ESSEC Business school, for example, has eliminated all long-haul travel to reduce its carbon footprint and has introduced virtual reality (VR) headsets for students already, so that they can still enjoy a similar experience to being in person. The school plans to use VR so that students can remotely attend conferences, summits, and company networking events, connecting with key business individuals from around the world. 

Deans predict metaverse for business education

I’m sure it serves a broader purpose: when they offer virtual, immersive learning opportunities, that enables schools to attract a worldwide audience. Which means more students enroll and thus more income. But there is also a downside that needs careful consideration: it’s becoming more clear that young people experience (mental) health issues because of the lack of in-person interaction. They are unmotivated to follow online classes and drop out as a consequence. Which achieves the opposite of what you’re trying to accomplish.

Creating virtual environments have advantages, but are also costly to run and maintain. And while the intent to reduce carbon footprint is great, virtual worlds and head sets consume a lot of energy too. The jury is out on this one.

Is it time for a Chief Metaverse Officer yet?

As we start to reimagine the future of work, new roles are being defined and new job titles created. And one of the most coveted titles in 2022 is one with “metaverse” in it. While it might be too early for a CMO (Metaverse, not marketing!), it’s time to think about what you need to do to attract skilled people that can help you make sense of the metaverse.

Although, maybe you should merge Marketing and Metaverse positions! After all, brands are flocking to the metaverse to buy land in Decentraland and sell virtual products, from sneakers, cloths and outer gear to beauty products (Nike, Adidas, Gap, H&M, LVMH, P&G to just name a few).

And while global jobs listings were down in November 2021, job postings for “metaverse” positions grew exponentially:

“Job listings in metaverse-associated themes such as virtual and augmented reality have gained traction this month. Roblox Corporation continues to dominate listings in this emerging space, while Stifel Financial Corp, Amazon Web Services, BMW, Intel Corp, and NVIDIA are jumping on the bandwagon.”

Global data jobs recap

So maybe it’s time to sit down with your leadership and think about the potential of the metaverse for your company. Even when you don’t think there’s something in it for you, at least you’ve taken the time to reflect on it and form an opinion. Because with the current hiring spree, it might not be long before your employees decide to vote with your feet because you didn’t tell them where you are headed.

44% of Employees want to work in the Metaverse

You always have to take commercial research with a grain of salt, especially when the company sells supporting services. But according to research from Lenovo, close to half of employees (44%) are willing to work in the metaverse and believe that it can deliver benefits like productivity to the workplace.

The global research was carried out by YouGov. It surveyed more than 7,500 working adults across the United States, United Kingdom, Brazil, Singapore, China, and Japan and was carried out in November 2021. It doesn’t specify what industry these employees work in, or what kind of tech skills they have. But here’s are some of the more striking findings:

However, there is skepticism on whether companies have the capabilities to pull it off. Two in five (43%) respondents believe their employers do not, or probably do not have the knowledge or expertise to enable them to work in the metaverse of the future. While 44% think the metaverse will improve their work productivity, three in five (59%) do not think or are not sure that their employers are currently investing enough in IT to help them maximize their productivity.

Enterprise Metaverse: Employees Are Ready, Can Organizations Deliver?

I’m surprised the number of disbelievers isn’t higher. We don’t really know yet what the metaverse is, so how do you know if your employer is ready to deliver that experience? Unfortunately, the press release doesn’t include a link to the report. This post will be updated as soon as it becomes available.

Web3 Isn’t as decentralized as you think

If you’re in marketing, you know that people don’t want endless options: give them 3 choices and the majority will choose not the cheapest or the most expensive but the one in the middle. Users want simplicity and convenience. And it’s the same for the web.

Web3 is exciting for people who understand technology: it’s new and it comes with fresh ideas. But when it comes to usability, do we really think that the average consumer worries about the stack when they rent a room through AirBnB? Sure, people have become more conscious of privacy, but Web2, with all its platforms and walled gardens gives them access to many convenient options. And to give a personal example: I spent many hours providing tech support to Microsoft users. Once I switched them over to tablets, all of that was gone. In short, despite its limitations, platforms are user-friendly and convenient for people who don’t have tech knowledge.

Moxie Marlinspike wrote an interesting blog about Web1, 2 and 3, starting with an explanation why centralized platforms exist:

  1. People don’t want to run their own servers and never will
  2. A protocol moves much more slowly than a platform

At the end of the stack, NFT artists are excited about this kind of progression because it means more speculation/investment in their art, but it also seems like if the point of web3 is to avoid the trappings of web2, we should be concerned that this is already the natural tendency for these new protocols that are supposed to offer a different future.

My first impressions of Web3

The blog continues with a life experiment to make distributed apps and also an NFT – and this example demonstrates clearly that instead of a platform, a new web server, in this case OpenSea, now acts as “gatekeeper”. And when OpenSea removes the NFT, that has some far reaching, unexpected consequences.

Web3 doesn’t seem as decentralized and democratized as it claims to be: now isn’t that a fascinating conclusion?

What if work were a video game?

That’s the enticing title of this week’s Sway podcast, which I highly recommend. I had high hopes for this conversation, but unfortunately, the title doesn’t quite cover the contents. Although Kara Swisher asks the question right at the beginning and Phil Spencer (the head of Xbox and executive vice president of gaming at Microsoft) answers, it doesn’t go any deeper than that. Mr Spencer remarks that video games, whose sales have soared during Covid, could offer lessons for the workplaces that have moved online in the pandemic:

“When you put players together in a virtual space, you can level the playing field for everybody, everyone feels equal and can have their own identity, their own screen name. And as we look at the workplace going online, or hybrid work environments, you might have some co-workers that are together in one place and others that are on the other end of a call. We look at these virtual spaces, and some of the things that we’ve learned in video games of people coming together to cooperate together, to achieve tasks. Can we take learnings from that and look at what the next evolution of Teams might be?”

Phil Spencer on What if Work Were a Video Game?

Why do I recommend the episode anyway? Because the gaming industry has long been familiar with avatars, virtual worlds, online economies and monetization. And when you listen to the remainder of their conversation and read between the lines, every topic they discuss has implications for work in the metaverse: from the treatment of female players to what constitutes harassment to moderating behaviors and conversations. When you listen to this conversation from that perspective, you’ll gain valuable insights that can be applied to the virtual world of work.

We don’t know what the Metaverse is

What is the metaverse anyway? Is it a conference room to hold a work meeting with your avatar colleagues? Is it the great virtual escape, where you go surfing with your pal? Is it a concert hall where you meet up with friends regardless of their location?

We don’t really know, and in 2022 we’ll get a little bit closer to understanding what it might be.

Anyone who tells you what the metaverse will be is either guessing or kidding themselves. “The topic lately fills me with frustration,” says CNET’s Scott Stein, our resident expert on virtual worlds. “It’s not just about VR and AR headsets.” The metaverse will be much more nuanced than the technical platforms it’s superficially associated with.

Even the term “the metaverse” is simplistic: A number of metaverses will emerge along the lines of social media platforms, with a handful becoming dominant and largely incompatible. “Everyone’s promising interoperability but history suggests it will be multiplatform, semicompatible and half-broken,” Stein predicts, though he’s intrigued by the “cross-border portability” envisioned by Meta, formerly Facebook. But “metaverse” shouldn’t have a “the” in front of it, because there won’t be just one. 

The metaverse isn’t what you think it is, because we don’t know what it is

I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine spending my whole day wearing a head set: first at work, and then at night for leisure? They are just too bulky and too heavy, not to mention uncomfortable. They also restrict you from seeing what goes on around you. That’s not how I want to spend my day, and I’m betting most of us won’t either. Humans are social beings and we need to see and communicate with others in real life.

However, considering that we will work remotely for the foreseeable future, and the next pandemic could be just around the corner (scary thought), I have no doubt we’ll see the first work applications this year. Especially with Microsoft jumping on the Metaverse, office applications seem very likely. And once they appear, more will certainly follow.

One thing is certain: just as we have many social media platforms, we will have more than one metaverse platform, especially considering the decentralization focus of the technologies used. And would you really want one avatar for your work and personal life? I don’t think so.

So who’s going to design a wallet that holds all my avatars?

Can we stop the metaverse?

At the beginning of Web 2.0, we didn’t really understand what the influx of tech would mean for our lives. We didn’t realize that we would give up our privacy in exchange for convenience. We loved being able to connect with others, not knowing that our data would be used to document our behavior. To design apps that make us spend more time on every day so people can monetize adds.

We did not understand that technology could be used to undermine democracy.

And now we’re pivoting towards the metaverse, a virtual world that we don’t understand, built on a different set of technologies. The promise behind Web 3.0 is that we’ll do things better, that we’ve learned from our mistakes, and we’re headed towards a decentralized world for the people by the people.

But what tech’s leading minds want for us may not, in fact, be inevitable. To the contrary, for the billions that lived through the false promises of Web 2.0, the current moment presents an opportunity to both push back against tech, and also to craft a more compelling and egalitarian vision.

This is our moment to push back against the metaverse

But with the Trillion dollar companies throwing their weight behind it, it seems inevitable that we’ll once again end up in a place that we don’t understand, and where we can’t oversee the consequences. Or will we?

If one thing became clear in 2021, it’s that we can’t have an industry without oversight, where regulation is left solely to its owners. As more people get involved, accidents will happen, and governments will be forced take action. Regulators might work slowly, but they can have an outsized influence. Just think about the GDPR or countries banning crypto farms. 2022 promises to be an interesting year!

Galloway on The Zuckerverse

With all the internet billionaires jumping on the next big thing called the Metaverse, it might be time to stop and take note of their ‘accomplishments’ so far, argues Scott Galloway in his latest newsletter, predicting that “The Zuckerverse Is the Biggest Tech Fail of 2022”.

It certainly looks like they are giving up on solving the problems of the current web and social media, and focus on creating a new and improved version. But why would we trust them to lead us into a new, unknown world? And design a Metaverse experience based on their beliefs and insights? And while ‘The Metaverse’ doesn’t exist, it might be better to stay far away from a virtual world envisioned by the person whose company has brought good but undoubtedly also much harm to the world.

What’s more precarious, however, is the notion that we’d trust Zuckerberg to be our shepherd in this new world after he chipped away at the self-esteem of our children and harvested, leaked, and sold the personal data of more people than the population of Earth’s southern hemisphere plus India. The mortal who controls the envisioned metaverse would be rendered a god, and the Zuck is a first-ballot hall of fame candidate for people who deserve dramatically less power.

There are already several metaverses. The Appleverse boasts several thousand metaverses sitting on top of one of the most accretive business models in history (the app store) with a portal (Airpods) that ships 40 times as many orders as the Meta portal (Oculus). Apple has already submitted a patent to install a camera in its Airpods and is even experimenting with temperature sensors for health monitoring. The Airpods business alone generates roughly $12 billion a year, more than Shopify, Snap, and Twitter combined.

More reasons Facebook’s VR headset is uniquely positioned to fail: It causes motion sickness and skin rashes and prevents other people from having sex with you. It also doesn’t pass the Crocs Test. Whenever a product seems to be garnering a degree of hype incommensurate with its value, ask yourself: Do people like it more than a rubber clog with holes in it? Answer: Not even close. The firm that will realize (some of) this meta vision with what may be the biggest tech IPO of 2022 is Epic Games. Epic is also the best/worst acquisition for Meta/society that should not happen if the DOJ still has a pulse.

2022 Predictions

Every generation comes with new ideas and ideals, and it might be time for the current internet billionaires to step aside and leave the metaverse to the next group of inventors. If they can even solve some of the persistent and harmful issues, then we might just see a better version on the horizon.