In November, a mere few months after the Metaverse was introduced, a beta tester reported being sexually harassed by a stranger on Horizon Worlds, The Verge reported. She wrote a post on Facebook saying, “Sexual harassment is no joke on the regular internet, but being in VR adds another layer that makes the event more intense. Not only was I groped last night, but there were other people there who supported this behaviour which made me feel isolated in the Plaza.” This is not a one-off event on the Metaverse; in theory, every crime that can be committed in the real world can be created online.
The dangerous future of the Metaverse
In a recent review of patents by The Financial Times, Meta’s plans for monetising human behaviour on the Metaverse were revealed. The organisation found pupil movements, body poses and nose scrunching among the markers of human expression that Meta is investing in. Meta will use the users’ biometric data and online activity to power their digital avatars and provide hyper-targeted sponsored content. Their headsets are input with tiny cameras and sensors to track the eyes and face of the users to ensure their avatar is an exact mirror of the real person. Legal reformer, Noelle Martin, tagged this to be a “global human-cloning programme” in the FT.
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Meta has come under privacy and security scrutiny/scandal time and again with Facebook, and the Metaverse is not looking to be any safer.
Additionally, given the decentralised nature of the platform, it will be a challenge to determine the person bearing data protection responsibilities. This means the Metaverse will be close to barred from answering to AI regulatory laws such as the EU regulation.
The think tank ensures safety
Tiffany Xingyu Wang, Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer at Spectrum Labs, has launched a nonprofit think tank, Oasis Consortium, to curb this in the initial stages. Launched in 2020, even before the Metaverse, the group OASIS stands for Openness, Accountability, Security, Innovation, and Sustainability. It consists of gaming firms, dating firms and online companies including Roblox, Grindr, Riot Games and Wildlife Studios, envisioning an ethical internet for future generations.
The think tank’s vision includes three main objectives; creating safer communities, ensuring data privacy, and being inclusive. “Creating safer, detoxified communities that allow us to connect, convene, buy, and sell from each other with confidence” is the mission.
Earlier in January, Oasis released their guidelines for the companies, the User Safety Standard list. The regulations include hiring a trust and safety officer, ensuring the latest technology that fights toxicity and employing content moderation. Between the thousands of millions of users of the organisations that are a part of the Oasis Consortium, this is the chance to ensure the Metaverse grows to popularity with safety. Thought leaders from these companies are also some of the consortium’s founding members and participated in writing the user safety standards.
The Oasis 5Ps of user safety for building safe, engaged and inclusive communities.
The group welcomes organisations to fulfil the principle of ‘openness’ by designing and defining their policies concerning the User Safety Standard. The three key approaches are human moderation, keyword-based techniques, and contextual AI. Wang hopes these will ensure transparency. Oasis Consortium further entails creating a grading system that the public can have access to identifying where a company stands on its trust and safety parameters. The member companies will have to share data on security breaches, abuses and offences on the platforms.
Wang has kept some elements, such as content moderation strategy, vague. While the plan has pointed out the regulations, it does not provide steps to achieving them.
While the think tank is perfect in ideation, critics have questioned how feasible this is. Questions include wondering if the ethical design is enough or apprehension on if tech companies actually care about the consumers’ best interests and if they can be trusted.
Additionally, a preeminent issue is a concern between the right to safety and privacy of the user. For instance, if a user lodges a complaint of abuse with law enforcement but would not have the evidence to prove it, the platforms would not be recording everything online.