Data protection and privacy are major concerns for metaverse companies, developers, and users alike. For users, it could mean violating their personal privacy, potential identity theft, and other types of fraud.
Companies that fail to factor in data protection and privacy rights in the metaverse could face heavy penalties in the long term.
With the Metaverse and other immersive technologies presenting new methods of data communication, extended reality (XR) firms and end users must consider new privacy measures.
What Does the Metaverse Mean for Data Privacy?
The metaverse is a virtual space where users can engage in socially led experiences. Most platforms allow users to interact with virtual reality (VR) environments and content.
If data privacy is a problem in today’s 2D web world, then the embodied internet of the metaverse adds a more complex dimension to the challenge. Consumers will use all new technologies to interact with the metaverse, like electromyography-enabled haptic gloves.
There is not yet full documentation of data collection, storage, and utilisation processes via XR devices. Also, user anonymity could become a more significant issue in the metaverse.
Hyper-realistic avatars like the Codex avatars by Meta could allow users to hide their identity or even make it possible for children to appear as adults. How would this impact consent in the metaverse?
Simply put, the metaverse blurs the lines between the real and the virtual at a scale never seen before. As online service providers continue to navigate the current personal rights protection impacts of the internet. The Metaverse is already knocking at the gates.
Implications for Companies Operating in the Metaverse
There are six factors companies must consider as they prepare to operate in the metaverse.
Consent Mechanisms Must Reflect New Data Types
Human-computer interface (HCI) devices could help collect various data types, including user biometrics information.
Users must educate themselves on the privacy implications, and consent mechanisms must be simple enough for the user to engage meaningfully.
Also, platforms should regularly refresh consent forms. Without the assumption of perpetual permission and with every new data type, these mechanisms must remain up to date.
Users must know when they are interacting with AI
For complete transparency, AI bots (i.e., digital humans) must come with labels so that users always know how they share their data.
Further, these AI developer base their bots on human models who willingly share their biometrics data. Developers must clearly outline the rights and consent rules governing these trades.
Companies need to self-regulate, at least at the beginning
Currently, data protection and privacy laws are not consistent around the world. EU’s GDPR, for example, lays down specific rules for EU citizens.
Different US states have other laws, like the CCPA in California. The UK has its version of the GDPR with additional Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR).
Meanwhile, the metaverse could become a separate territory operating universally and independently – requiring stringent self-regulation.
Transparent monetisation can help counter data misuse concerns
Services from Google and Meta lead their operations via ad revenues collected, focusing on ad targeting based on user data. By compensating users for managing their information, firms could avoid some privacy issues in the metaverse.
For instance, privacy-focused browsers like Brave turn off cookies by default, and users can collect rewards or tokens if they wish to view ads.
VR worlds have to be purpose-built for data security
Metaverse services house massive volumes of user data, so platforms must remain watertight. Developers must keep vulnerabilities to an absolute minimum and adopt secure coding principles.
Data breaches and accidental exposure could prove costly for companies in the long term. Firms can avoid exposure with regular testing and upgrades.
Metaverse Data privacy and Protection ease of use
Finally, there will be situations where companies must choose between data privacy and user convenience or ease of use.
For example, interoperability becomes much quicker when services have a single set of terms & conditions governing both platforms.
But ideally, for the user’s sake, a firm should renew consent at every point of data re-entry, even if that means an additional authentication layer.
How Is Meta Working Towards Data Protection and Privacy in the Metaverse?
The first step to ensure data protection and privacy in the metaverse is building privacy-sensitive technologies from the ground up.
Meta has taken several measures in this direction. It recently shut down its facial recognition system that would identify whenever a user would appear in tagged photos and other places.
It also strengthens its age verification procedures to ensure age-appropriate platform interactions. The company has even announced a Transfer Your Information tool (TYI) that aligns with GDPR and allows users to retract information from Meta’s umbrella of service whenever they want.
Finally, Meta is working on privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs) to curb reliance on personal ad data through cryptography and statistical technique. The Menlo Park-based firm is working towards building a safe, privacy-sensitive, and regulated metaverse for users.