Risks virtual world of metaverse pose


A person watches Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiling the META logo. PHOTO | AFP

Last month, Facebook Inc announced plans to change its name to Meta to position itself for an emerging trend known as the metaverse. The metaverse is a shared 3D virtual space that allows interactions among different people through digital avatars.

It has also been described as a virtual universe which is parallel to the real universe. Aspects of the real universe such as actual existing places may be part of this virtual world.

According to experts, the metaverse is double-edged. There are several projected benefits and dangers of the metaverse. One of the benefits is that it would provide an alternative form of entertainment.

One can experience the travel to another country virtually through the metaverse.

The metaverse highly simulates real physical places. Therefore, at the click of a button, one can travel to another country and experience different places, without necessarily having to physically travel there. Other than enabling simulated virtual travel, the metaverse can allow people access to different entertaining experiences.

It is possible to shop in a virtual mall or take a virtual hike and so on. During the lockdown period, a lot of entertainers had to do online concerts. Fashion house Hanifa held an online fashion show using 3D models. The metaverse may provide a platform through which entertainers can do virtual concerts.

The metaverse will be good for advertising and marketing. Businesses can allow consumers to test products and services before making an actual purchase in the real world. For example, through the metaverse one can test the features of a new car model before making an actual physical purchase. The metaverse will provide useful data to companies on consumer tastes and habits.

The metaverse will run on blockchain technology and use digital currencies such as cryptocurrency. At the metaverse, one can purchase digital assets such as virtual land and others.

While the metaverse seems like harmless fun, some experts have warned on the dangers of uncontrolled access. One is that unmonitored use of the metaverse especially by minors may make it difficult for the user to distinguish between the real and the virtual world. Studies have shown that uncontrolled social media usage has mental health effects on users.

The metaverse might be used to further propagate actions that would be deemed criminal in the real world. Violence and murder may be propagated in an uncontrolled metaverse. Warnings have already been issued about some digital games due to their graphic content. The metaverse would pose additional danger as it is a 3D simulated experience.

The metaverse may be used for cybercrime activities. These include cyberbullying, impersonation, hacking and others. A criminal can impersonate an actual person or business in the metaverse and cause a lot of reputational damage in the real world.

The metaverse raises new legal challenges. One is the lack of legislation and enforcement. The metaverse has no physical laws and jurisdictions. It is therefore difficult to control and regulate actions that would be deemed illegal.

The metaverse will make it easier for intellectual property infringement to take place. Since there are no laws in the metaverse, then anybody can infringe content in the metaverse. Disclosure of unprotected information on the metaverse can be dangerous for a company. Disclosure of trade secrets by a company can be risky if the competitors access that on the metaverse.

The metaverse carries a data privacy risk. Third parties can monitor activities on the metaverse to study consumer behaviour and engage in uncontrolled data mining.

There needs to be some policy and regulation to minimise the dangers of the metaverse.