How to Address Digital Safety in the Metaverse

We’ve seen it depicted in fiction countless times: An entirely digital world, where all a person needs is a VR headset and an open mind to step into a brand new plane of existence. The idea of the metaverse is exciting, and the hype is already building to try out the beta versions of this new interactive space. But as the buzz increases so do concerns for user safety. As the lines between the virtual and physical worlds blur, what potential risks does this new frontier pose?

Metaverse and Digital Safety

There are three major concerns critics have when it comes to digital safety in the metaverse: identity theft, harassment, and ad overload.

Concern #1: Identity Theft

While it won’t take a large amount of equipment to enter the metaverse, it will require a certain amount of personal information. As opposed to the usual username and password many online spaces require for entry, the metaverse will likely require more sensitive data like your full legal name, credit card, and bank account information. 

There is a concern about the significant amount of biometric data these devices can gather: VR systems create a 3D map of the room around them in addition to tracking the user's eye, hand, and body movements. If this data were ever leaked it would give scammers the ability to perpetrate any number of digital crimes, including identity theft. While services like identity monitoring offer some relief for concerned digital citizens, it doesn't change the fact that the metaverse could put your data at risk. 

Concern #2: Harassment

User interaction will be the foundation for the metaverse experience, but unfortunately not all users will play nice. In any online space harassment is an issue that crops up time and time again. With the metaverse, not only will users be able to hear one another but see each other move and gesture. 

Some companies, like Meta, have established protocols to get ahead of the possibility of user harassment. In spaces like their Horizon Venues and Horizon Worlds apps, they’ve introduced a function called “personal boundary.” This creates a four foot forcefield around a user that disallows other avatars from entering their space. As the metaverse grows, other companies will likely introduce similar settings to give users maximum comfort. 

Concern #3: Ad Overload

Advertising can help pay for free user experiences, but too many ads can ruin a space altogether. With the metaverse already engaging its users on several tactile levels, ad overload could turn many people off and reduce overall interest in participation. With Meta’s (formerly Facebook) history of drawing plentiful revenue from advertising, many critics are worried the metaverse will assault users with an endless series of pop-ups and in-your-face sponsored content. 

Constructing Ecosystems of Trust

While harassment and ads are legitimate concerns, the leaking of private data can be especially harmful. To combat this, developers have been encouraged to construct safety ecosystems users can trust. This includes creating strict safety protocols, secure algorithms, and regulations that control metaverse interactions and restrict the flow of private information. With any new space, the responsibility is on the architects to protect the inhabitants; as new users enter the metaverse, they will be particularly vulnerable, and it's up to creators to establish a safe ecosystem in which they can thrive. 

Where Do We Stand on Digital Risks Today?

It's estimated that 2,244 cyber crimes happen every day, with one occurring every 30 seconds. Staying safe online is a growing issue in our current digital space, not to mention new online venues like the metaverse. With the necessity of so much personal information just to utilize this new technology, many concerned members of the tech community are urging significant caution. Suggestions for dealing with digital risks include reducing the amount of collected data, adding age restrictions for entry, and increasing moderation. As it stands now though, only time will tell whether the metaverse will be a safe place for adults and children alike. 

The Metaverse: Can You Stay Safe in This Digital Wild West? 

It's easy to look at the early days of the internet with nostalgic rose-tinted glasses: those early days with no rules and restrictions produced some interesting content and helped people connect in a way they never thought possible. But we tend to forget the significant scamming and cybercrime that took place in those early days. With the metaverse, it's important we learn from the past; while it's important to provide users with a fun new experience, it's just as important to keep them safe. Without user safety the metaverse cannot be a sustainable virtual space, and will likely fade into obscurity. 

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