Who Will Own The Metaverse?

Facebook has shown to be an extremely ambitious platform. Otherwise, it would have no room to boast of having around 2.91 billion monthly active users. It’s dominated the social media landscape, continues to evolve, and shows no plan of slowing down or exhausting new ideas.

Regardless of its colorful history of controversies, including but not limited to invasive privacy issues, or the strange downtime incident - that left the company with its app family tree offline for several hours early last month, which occurred after revelations from a whistleblower by the former data scientist employed by Facebook - still the tech giant continues to find new lifeblood to ensure its continued existence.

For such powerful information and social medium, additional controversy erupted on Oct. 8, when Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced at the company’s annual Connect conference that he had decided to rebrand the Facebook company as "Meta."

Why? Because Meta is planning on establishing a presence in the metaverse, the next phase of the Web. Zuckerberg said:

“Right now, our brand is so tightly linked to one product that it can’t possibly represent everything that we’re doing today, let alone in the future. Over time, I hope that we are seen as a metaverse company, and I want to anchor our work and identity on what we’re building toward.”

A Vital Role In The Coming Future

Rebranding an already successful company can be a gamble. But while the public backlash focused their attention on a household name brand changing its brand to back a concept that can be difficult to grasp at first glance, it was a power move, because Meta plans to be the primary stakeholder in the future that is coming.

Zuckerberg made it clear that Meta does not want to be only recognized as a social media platform. Rather, he is aiming higher. Since Facebook went live that fateful day back on Feb. 4, 2004, Zuckerberg has shown to be an innovator with foresight. Consequently, he has incrementally made moves to ensure Facebook/Meta will survive and thrive.

When Oculus Rift bravely attempted to revolutionize virtual reality gaming back in 2014, Meta purchased the company for $2 billion. Zuckerberg wanted to corner the VR market, seeing its potential in playing a significant role in the coming future.

Anupam Chander, professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington DC and a voice in global regulation of new technologies had this to say about Meta’s ambitions:

“My suspicion is that this is about owning the operating system of the future, and Facebook’s experience of being an app on other people’s – rivals’ – operating systems.”

Additionally, he expressed that the company does not want to be a “prisoner on other people’s platform. They want others to be prisoners on their platform.”

What Is The Metaverse?

Zuckerberg describes the metaverse as “a virtual environment where you can be present with people in digital spaces.” It’s “an embodied internet that you’re inside of rather than just looking at. We believe that this is going to be the successor to the mobile internet.”

Imagine an internet you no longer merely look at, but a digital third-dimensional construct that can be interacted with from the inside. Think virtual reality and augmented reality because that’s the goal.

Video games, such as massively multiplayer online games, already exist as microcosms of this grander reality, with in-game currencies, social networking mechanics, and immersive experience.

In order to understand the concept behind what the metaverse is, let’s examine briefly the current state of the web as it exists today. The current version of the web as we know it today was coined web 2.0 back in 1999. The purpose of its current state is designed to allow users to create content and essentially interact with the web as opposed to merely viewing content. Everyone can be a content creator and contributor.

Unfortunately, web 2.0 comes with limitations, which is data ownership. Web 3.0 has the ambition to eradicate centralization and private ownership of user data by mounting its architecture on a decentralized infrastructure as its core foundation. This means that centralized technology stakeholders will begin to lose the absolute control they have held for so long.

One of the most paramount concerns users have wrestled big tech companies over is the right of ownership over their own data. The idea of users having absolute sovereignty over their own data is practically unheard of. Data sovereignty and user privacy go hand-in-hand.

But what does this say to mega technology companies who rely on user metadata to sell to advertising companies?

Facebook generates most of its revenue by selling ad space to advertisers, most of which are targeted advertisements algorithmically engineered to appeal to individual users’ preferences.

Thus, the metaverse is about a shift in power where users no longer are products. However, it was a beautiful dream while it lasted.

Concerns over whether Meta will merely provide the tools for users to interact within the metaverse, or if they will become the gatekeeper of it continue to spark debate.

“I doubt that they would relinquish anything that might compromise their position as the definitive advertisement provider of the metaverse, for instance,”

said Max Van Kleek, associate professor of human-computer interaction at the University of Oxford.

An article by

Jesse McGraw

Edited by

Ana Alexandre

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