Thomas Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States, famously said “responsibility is proportionate to opportunity.” This captures the sentiment of Meta Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, who aims to develop a responsible metaverse.
One cannot underestimate the importance of building such a platform as billions are set to rely on it in the future. CEO Mark Zuckerberg highlighted such responsibilities at his Facebook Connect event in October last year.
Here are the implications for Meta Platform’s metaverse and how it can lead in accountability, transparency, and responsibility.
Meet Meta’s Metaverse
News reports worldwide have covered media on Meta’s focus on the Metaverse last year. Following the company’s rebrand, it announced massive investments with several key initiatives.
The company’s metaverse vision involve a series of interconnected virtual spaces for socialising and working. Its Horizon platform will allow avatars to attend meetings, provide virtual hangout spaces, and attend concerts.
Despite this, Meta has scaled down its investments in the metaverse considerably, namely after announcing it would lay off 11,000 staff in November. This resulted in a major blow to its metaverse ambitions, but Zuckerberg added he would continue to invest and build the platform.
The Metaverse and Harmful Content
This vision of a shared global space will demand strict safety requirements to protect users from harmful content. Meta has faced such issues from the UK government after a young woman ended her life after such exposure. This incident boosted support for Westminster’s Online Safety Bill.
This sparked an intense outcry from Whitehall and the global online community, with the former ramping up scrutiny of the Menlo Park-based firm.
Additional issues erupted after users virtually assaulted a female executive beta testing Horizon Worlds in December last year. Meta responded by adding personal boundaries and defensive options to protect users’ security and safety.
These are but several of a growing number of safety issues in the XR community, which will involve an immense number of industry challenges. Issues such as biometric data, ethics, online behaviour, privacy, and cybersecurity will enter the growing list of concerns raised across the sector.
Meta’s Investments in an Ethical Metaverse
Meta announced shortly after its Connect event it would invest $50 million to collaborate with organizations for responsibly building the metaverse.
Such initiatives will allow Meta to collaborate with major global organisations such as the Organisation of American States (OAS) to develop best practices for the Metaverse.
Meta also aims to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) to boost minority group representation. The company believes such inclusion will create a better Metaverse. This is evidenced by groups such as the Gatherverse and the Virtual and Augmented Reality Association (VRARA).
Practising Responsible Innovation
Meta promises to work with experts from different fields to ensure equal opportunities in the Metaverse.
Since interoperability is at the core of its business functions, the pragmatic approach is to consult relevant personnel from the government, industry, and academia to ensure success.
The company later joined responsible metaverse alliances such as the Washington, DC-based XR Association and the Metaverse Standards Forum.
Importantly, Meta Platforms has outlined a set of ground rules to address concerns from concerned users:
- Economic opportunity: How to grant people more options, encourage competition and maintain a prospering digital economy.
- Privacy: Minimising data usage, designing technology with privacy-sensitive data usage, and ensuring transparency over user data.
- Safety and integrity: How to strengthen online protections for users and to assist or take action in uncomfortable situations.
- Equity and inclusion: How to ensure that developers design more inclusive and accessible supporting technologies.
Additionally, Meta introduced four responsible metaverse innovation principles to guide operations at Reality Labs.
Meta plans to maintain transparency about how its products work and the information they collect. Their first principle pledges clear communication to allow users to make informed decisions about their products and data collection.
While users are still learning about the Metaverse, they will also require autonomy. Meta aims to provide impactful controls so that people can take charge of their virtual experiences.
Meta added visual indicators and even physical control like camera shutters, age, and comfort ratings in VR. It has also encouraged people to establish personal boundaries in virtual worlds.
Meta aspires to provide equal opportunities and consider the enumerable needs of its audiences. The world faces rapid digital transformations with increasingly pervasive augmented and virtual reality technologies. Meta plans to build inclusive products catering to diverse demographics and design hardware suited for growing accessibility needs.
Putting People First
Meta has proposed incorporating human-centric business models for its metaverse platforms, allowing people to achieve monetisation, safety, and inclusion goals. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, Meta and its clients, customers, and employees have focused on such models to prioritise their needs.
The company has proposed key data sensitivity initiatives and anonymous data collection for the ethical treatment of its users.
What’s Next For Meta’s Ethical Metaverse?
With these proposals, Meta must educate its users on the Metaverse and its products along with strict, transparent guidelines.
To build user trust, Meta must tackle fears over privacy and data issues and build an inclusive, safe space. This will take Herculean efforts from the global community, Meta’s Reality Labs teams, and consumer feedback loops. This will remain paramount to the company’s success as it promotes its Meta Quest Pro headset over the next few years.