The metaverse is all the rage right now and everyone, including brands, is starting to map out what their experience may look like in the brave new world of virtual reality. It has the potential to change life as we know it over the next few years, but there are some serious considerations marketers need to keep top of mind, alongside their excitement, for what lies ahead.
Social platforms aren’t “built to code”
First and foremost, let’s understand how any existing ubiquitous social media platform has been erected to date. No matter which one you pick as an example, they were architected by a private company to eventually monetize people’s data. The end game has always been about attracting people as core users and then harnessing their data to drive interaction and ultimately provide some value to an entity willing to pay to reach the user base. Pretty simple concept.
But what these platforms have benefited from is a lack of regulation on how they are constructed and, to a large degree, how they operate. Unlike a public building in any major downtown city in the world, social media platforms could build as they like, with little-to-no safeguards for their user base. Currently, there is no building inspector for the metaverse, and that should be very frightening to all of us.
The safety issues inherent to the metaverse
There’s a reason why we don’t flinch when entering physical buildings or boarding an airplane or hopping on a train. Society has adopted safety standards and regulatory bodies that require private and public companies to erect things safely, according to an International Building Code, the FAA air worthiness standards or the Department of Transportation, for example.
Why would we accept anything less than this for the metaverse, which has the potential to see billions of people pass through its virtual halls?
Putting aside the safe engineering and actual construction of the metaverse landscape, there will be significantly more user data acquired and manipulated to shape experiences in the virtual world. Biometric data, along with psychographic data, that can be used to augment the reality you explore. Will racists be able to see only users with the skin color they desire? Like the image-enhancing filters flooding Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram, will the metaverse allow users to change their own appearance, detach their real-world identity to form a new one and potentially create a new paradigm of human interaction disconnected from the truth?
The potential for the spread of misinformation is incredibly high, be it as simple as a change to someone’s individual appearance or an entire movement of bullying, hate speech or political lies. If the existing platforms can’t quell these issues now, how will they address it in the metaverse?
Will the metaverse stand or fall on consumer privacy?
Finally, let’s look at consumer privacy in the metaverse. With VR glasses tracking eye movement, cameras and sensors collecting body movement and potentially users’ weights or physical abilities, who will govern what is and isn’t shared? And to and from whom?
Do the chief architects of the metaverse want us to keep squabbling over cookie data to serve better ads and stay ignorant to the potential data troves that traversing the metaverse will bring?
After all, being able to serve more relevant ads seems far less dangerous than the potential for augmenting reality in the metaverse. Are the legislators, marketers and ad-tech/mar-tech platforms worried about the wrong issues right now? Should we be looking at the bigger picture and start demanding regulation, safety standards and sound software development practices so we don’t need to react to the pitfalls after construction is well underway? The answer is yes.
Brands—who typically feed the revenue models of these beasts—need to stand up and protect their customers. This is an opportunity to change the way we interact with consumer audiences and hold accountable the engineers who are focused on building a better revenue engine at the expense of its user base.
If you think Zuckerberg and other metaverse architects are putting human health and safety at the forefront of their engineering efforts, just take a moment to reflect on all the unrest and sad stories of self-harm and hate that have permeated their platforms in the past 12 months. Couple that with their profits in the same period.
So, I pose the question: Do you trust these engineers to build an environment that is safe and secure for your brand and your customer base? Your career may very well depend on it someday soon.
Tim Glomb is the VP of content and data at Cheetah Digital where he leads the development of multimedia content to enable sales and marketing along with client success.