Big tech shows no desire to stop trying to make the metaverse happen, whether we want it or not. Whichever particular version will win out remains to be seen, and when (the arrival of virtual and augmented reality for the masses been about five years away for about three decades now, after all).
But whenever and however it arrives, it’s hard to see how the metaverse will overcome the privacy and security problems that we’ve been trying to deal with in our existing technology for far too long.
Chances are it’s going to make them all a lot worse.
Never forget that a significant part – probably even the majority – of the modern web is underpinned by surveillance capitalism. That is, being able to observe and analyse us, gather information on who we are and what we like, is fundamental to the business model of nearly all of the big tech companies.
Anothe problem that isn’t going away: tech companies continue to rush buggy software code out of the door which developers haven’t had time to secure properly because being first to market matters much more than protecting the data and privacy of their customers. And as a result, privacy leaks are so common that most consumers are so jaded they simply shrug their shoulders and keep doing business with whichever company was breached this time around.
Meanwhile, scammers continue to up their game. Whether they are dealing with phishing or ransomware or data theft, most police won’t understand the crime and even if they do the crooks will either disappear into another jurisdiction or even turn out to be working for a government; hard to chase either way.
The metaverse risks compounding all of these problems.
If you thought big tech knew a lot about you simply based on the websites you visit or the links you click on, image how much they will know about you once they are able to record literally every single thing you look at, and for how long. And if big tech knowing about it is bad enough, it will be worse when that data inevitably leaks.
If you though phishing scams were bad now, thanks to carefully scripted emails or even deep fake audio or video, get ready for your CEO to appear in a virtual work and ask you to transfer millions to a random bank account.
Or as Charlie Bell, Microsoft’s executive vice president of security, compliance, identity, and management pointed out in a recent blog: “The problems of yesterday’s and today’s Internet — impersonation, attempts to steal credentials, social engineering, nation state espionage, inevitable vulnerabilities — will be with us in the metaverse.”
This is just the start. There are plenty of other risks that come with creating physical representations of ourselves in a virtual world.
Thinking optimistically, perhaps the leap to the metaverse will make all these problems so obvious and so pressing that big tech – and broader society – will have no option other than to go back and fix the privacy and security problems that have been dragging on for too long.
That’s unlikely, and perhaps even implausible. So perhaps it’s about time we started demanding better from tech companies before they impose a future on us that fixes none of the problems we are already struggling with – and simply adds more.