Mark Zuckerberg has doubled down.
Just when you thought the Zuck was going to come out with his hands up and surrender to the law, which is closing in on his $1.2 trillion data empire from all sides (and continents), he announces he has no plans to restrain his ambitions.
On the contrary, Zuckerberg is taking them, and everything else he owns (Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, etc.), with him into the metaverse, a place the pundits at The Verge describe optimistically as “a maximalist version of Facebook, spanning social presence, office work, and entertainment” with its own “fully fledged economy.”1
Zuckerberg is so optimistic about the metaverse that he renamed his company Meta in honor of it.
Did You Know: Meta currently has 10,000 technologists working on the metaverse, with another 10,000 job hires expected. Over the next few years, Meta will pour over $10 billion into the metaverse project.
According to Zuckerberg himself, in the metaverse, you’ll be able to walk into a Starbucks and “kind of wave your hands and you can have basically as many monitors as you want, all set up, whatever size you want them to be … And you can just bring that with you wherever you want.”
Zuckerberg calls this “the infinite office.” In Meta’s infinite office, instead of Slacking a colleague, “they can teleport in, and then they can see all the context that you have. They can see your five monitors.”
That’s not all that will be changing in our offices in the metaverse. Zoom calls will also be much better because with a “shared sense of space” we’ll have more meaningful connections with our colleagues, who in today’s 2D spaces “all look the same and they all blend together.”
After a day in our VR offices, says Zuckerberg, we won’t even have to leave the metaverse. When we get home, we can kick back and visit each other on our couches as holograms. Or, if we have the energy, we can step into a 3D concert halfway across the world.
The only apparatus we’ll need to enter Zuckerberg’s metaverse (besides Meta’s software) is a set of five-millimeter-thick AR/VR glasses, which Zuckerberg’s growing army of metaverse technologists is working on as we speak.
Obviously, a supercomputer a quarter the width of a Popsicle stick is going to be a challenge, but metaverse hardware may be the least of Meta’s problems.
For years, Facebook, and the apps and services we use with it, has been running roughshod over our digital privacy like an army of invading Huns. If it’s this bad in the 2D universe, what should we expect from Mark Zuckerberg and his company when they become chief engineers of the metaverse?
Here are three things to think about.
Social media companies, like Meta, already collect troves of data from us. What’s going to happen in the metaverse, when we’re not just clicking, but hearing, touching, and even smelling content? Where will all that biometric data go? Who will be regulating its collection?
I’d like to say it will all go into individual digital time capsules we’ll bury in our digital backyards in the metaverse and then take out again in ten years and enjoy. But, like you, I survived Facebook’s massive 2018 data dump, so I’m more of a realist here.
The advanced VR and AR technologies Meta is developing for the metaverse aren’t the only technologies that will be getting a lot better over the next decade.
Dangerous technologies like deep fakes will be getting more sophisticated, too. This could put humans immersed in the metaverse at serious risk. I mean, it’s tricky enough to spot a hacker posing as your friend in an email. What happens when you bump into his faultless avatar in a virtual bar?
Hand-in-hand with virtual imposters comes a host of other cyber risks we’ll be exposing ourselves to in exchange for a seamless virtual experience. Most of those risks will revolve around access to our sensitive details.
Think about this. We’ll need to pull up information in a millisecond in the metaverse, so our locations, phone numbers, and credit card numbers (to name just three pieces of personally identifiable information, or PII) will have to be in the metaverse with us at all times. Depending on the cybersecurity in place, we could all be soft targets for identity theft.
Did You Know: Meta’s AR/VR glasses won’t be the first “connected spectacles” to go to market. Back in 2013, Google launched its own VR glasses, Google Glass. Google Glass lasted until 2015 before quietly dying.
We know from covering the recent spike in Instagram account takeovers that Facebook isn’t the only unregulated space where data bandits buy and sell our info. The dark web also functions as a clearing house for our personal data. It fuels the ransomware cottage industry and it’s where mafia SIM jackers go to unload their illegal freight.
While the metaverse may sound like some kind of alternate plane of reality in the Marvel universe, don’t expect it to have any super powers to keep the bad guys out. So, if you haven’t given any thought to it before, now would be a very good time to invest in your digital security.
You can start by getting on top of your digital hygiene. Basic privacy steps like installing a VPN on your devices will hide your IP address, encrypt any data you send over the web, and stop you from falling victim to malware. VPNs will also block the kinds of cookies Facebook has been using for years to track us around the web.
As we’ve seen this year with the millions upon millions of PYSA ransomware attacks that have been striking schools and other critical infrastructure, data breaches happen all the time. With a password manager, like 1Password or Dashlane, if a breach compromises any of your login credentials, you’ll get a warning, so you can reset them before a two-bit hacker can use them against you.
As I mentioned above, the biggest threat to our digital safety in the metaverse will be the biggest threat we face today: identity theft. Only in the metaverse, a nebulous space that will likely be under construction for many years to come, cyber criminals looking to steal our personal details will have the ultimate playground.
But there will be other forms of cybercrime, too.
Online cyberbullying, already serious before the pandemic, exploded in the two years since lockdown.2 Which explains why some identity monitoring services, like IdentityForce, now offer victims up to $25,000 in cyberbullying restitution. In the metaverse, don’t expect online bullying to get any better.
Even more worrisome for families, news studies show that cybercriminals are now preying on children in record numbers. There were more than 1.25 million cases of child identity theft in the U.S. alone in 2021, costing families upwards of $1,000.3 If your seven-year-old is at risk on TikTok, virtual playgrounds in the metaverse may become literal stalking grounds.
If you spend any time on dating apps, you may have a catfishing story, where someone you got close to turned out to be a totally different person who had hijacked someone else’s identity.
In a weird, and pathetic, COVID twist, catfish scammers are now posing as frontline workers soliciting donations to charities. Where would you find such lowlifes? On Facebook? Perhaps.
What do all these cybercrimes have in common? You can stop many of them by investing in an identity theft monitoring service that can run you as little as $7 per month.
The best ID theft protection plans on the market will cover just about any fraud scenario under the sun, with dark web, SSN, and credit monitoring, and special protections for your children and family. Some of them, like IdentityIQ, even provide VPNs and malware protection at no extra cost.
If this sounds more like I’m talking about the Battle of the Black Gate in the Lord of the Rings than a day surfing the web with some light emailing, I’m not. I’m just preparing for the metaverse.
And, one Facebook data breach victim to another, you should, too.
Newton, Casey. (2021, Jul 22). Mark in the Metaverse: Facebook’s CEO on why the social network is becoming ‘a metaverse company’. The Verge.
Hinduja, Sameer. (2021, Oct 21). Cyberbullying in 2021 by Age, Gender, Sexual Orientation, and Race. Cyberbullying Research Center.
Kitten, Tracy. (2021, Nov 2). Child Identity Fraud: A Web of Deception and Loss. Javelin.