Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen has once again taken aim at her former employer, arguing that the social media giant’s plans for the metaverse could lead to a “repeat of all the harms” caused by Facebook around consumer safety and privacy.
Meta, formerly Facebook, has made "very grandiose promises about how there's safety-by-design in the metaverse," Haugen said in an interview with Politico. "But if they don't commit to transparency and access and other accountability measures, I can imagine just seeing a repeat of all the harms you currently see on Facebook."
Haugen made headlines last year when she disclosed thousands of internal Facebook documents to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Wall Street Journal, revealing the company’s weak response to the spread of political and COVID-19 vaccine misinformation on its platform.
Now, with the San Francisco-based company, rebranded as Meta, pivoting to the metaverse, Haugen has raised concerns over user privacy as the company builds out its ecosystem.
Haugen said that she’s “super concerned about how many sensors are involved” in metaverse hardware such as Meta’s Quest virtual reality headsets.
“When we do the metaverse, we have to put lots more microphones from Facebook; lots more other kinds of sensors into our homes," she told Politico. "You don't really have a choice now on whether or not you want Facebook spying on you at home. We just have to trust the company to do the right thing."
More gadgets for the Metaverse
The metaverse, one of the buzzwords in the blockchain industry since last year, refers to a persistent, shared online virtual world with a native economy. It seeks to merge virtual, augmented, and physical realities into a unified environment offering a broad range of features such as gaming, social experiences, NFT trading, and many more.
To interact with the metaverse, users don gadgets such as VR headsets, AR smart glasses and wristband sensors.
Meta has ambitious plans for the metaverse; at the time of Facebook’s rebrand to Meta, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that, “I think we’re basically moving from being Facebook first as a company to being metaverse first.”
Following the demise of its Diem stablecoin project, Meta is reportedly exploring the use of centralized in-app tokens within its metaverse, which some Meta staffers refer to as "Zuck Bucks."
Facebook’s parent company also revealed that it’s testing new features that will enable creators to make money trading virtual items and effects in Meta’s social virtual reality game, “Horizon Worlds.”
Last year, Meta AI, the research team behind Meta’s company’s metaverse push, partnered with Carnegie Mellon University to create Reskin, a novel tactile sensor that acts as a flexible skin.
Meta’s ‘threat’ to the open metaverse
Haugen isn’t the only one raising concerns about Meta’s approach to the metaverse.
Yat Siu, executive chairman of game publisher and venture capital firm Animoca Brands, told Decrypt last October that Meta represented a "threat" to the open metaverse.
Siu doubled down on his stance in January, telling Decrypt that Meta “is looking to build a closed metaverse, one where they control the data and the network effects that the data derives, so what they are building is less competition than simply antithetical to what we are doing."
Main image by Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0