The Metaverse promises to offer a new reality to the Internet. The virtual world proposed by Meta and other technology giants uses advanced features such as virtual and augmented reality to allow people to interact with each other through 3D avatars. However, this novelty can hide a series of dangers to the user and society, such as violation of privacy, circulation of false information, and promotion of hate speech.
Other possible negative effects of the metaverse as proposed by Mark Zuckerberg include harassment, impact on the participants’ self-esteem, and the application of cryptocurrency scams. Techidence lists, below, five potential dangers of the metaverse and explains how they can affect people’s lives.
1. Violation of privacy
The idea of a metaverse as proposed by Meta depends on a set of accessories and specialized hardware to establish connections between the user and the virtual world. Just like cell phones, these new devices may contain a series of sensors capable of gathering data from users, opening space for the social network to store personal information from Internet users.
Besides the collection of information, there is also a concern about possible leaks and possible interceptions of this data by third parties. Another issue that has generated discussion is to what extent the user can trust Meta’s ability to gather this data and use it responsibly, given the company’s history of privacy scandals.
2. Impact on self-esteem
The metaverse can become an unhealthy space of projections. This is because one of the appeals of the concept is precisely to be a virtual coexistence environment where the user can create their 3D avatar, either representing themselves or creating a fictional character.
Experts believe that this ability could open up a space for people with self-esteem issues to use the virtual environment to expose an idealized, “perfect” version of themselves. This would impact these individuals’ perception of themselves in the real world and could intensify already existing distortions – since outside of the metaverse, it is not possible to eliminate physical characteristics on a personalization screen.
Virtual reality experiences connected to what the metaverse promises for the future are still limited, but reports of episodes involving sexual harassment and assault are already becoming common. As in other connected spaces, such as the communication channels of online games, these experiences have encouraged aggressive behavior from people who feel protected by the anonymity and distance offered by the virtual environment.
One of the most significant reports comes from a participant in the beta program of Horizon Worlds, a connected virtual reality experience from Meta, the company responsible for Facebook. The user was allegedly abused by another participant, and the other players did not intervene. Meta officials claim that participants in the program go through training and that there are moderation tools accessible to anyone who feels assaulted.
4. Circulation of misinformation and conspiracy theories
Problems that affect conventional social networks, such as the spread of fake news and the popularization of conspiracy theories, can also appear in the metaverse. And there are already examples of this on connected virtual reality platforms. Among them are racist speeches when an avatar representing a minority group appears, as well as the use of figures reminiscent of Hitler or members of the Ku-Klux-Klan in the chat service VRChat.
For experts, Facebook and other similar platforms fail to monitor this kind of behavior. Without proper regulation, experiments in the metaverse – a much more complex environment than today’s social networks – can contribute to boosting the spread of hate speech and fake news to a much more alarming level.
5. Cryptocurrency scams
If not properly regulated, the metaverse can act as a “no man’s land” to be exploited by criminals. Security experts from the company Cisco have identified scams and attacks that can be carried out in virtual environments to steal amounts of money, cryptocurrencies, and personal data from users.
One of the scams identified in these environments exploits smart contracts, an electronic form that uses technologies such as blockchain to ensure that the contractor receives an item after a certain condition – such as a payment – has been met. Criminals, however, have found ways to exploit this type of agreement so that the victim pays and does not receive the product – usually an NFT.
Other common scams are social engineering scams that aim to lure victims into giving up personal information. In this modality, famous brands are also used as bait to convince users to spend real money on non-existent products and services.