Meta pledges to prioritise safety in the metaverse

By November 24, 2022Metaverse
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Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook Group, says it has committed to ensuring the metaverse is developed responsibly, with security, privacy and safety being key priorities.

This was the word from Dr Ololade Shyllon, head of privacy policy, Africa, Middle East and Turkey at Meta, speaking this week at the 2022 Data Protection Africa Summit, in Illovo, Johannesburg.

Giving a keynote presentation titled “Metaverse in Africa”, Shyllon highlighted safety-related issues for users of the metaverse.

Last October, Facebook announced the social media giant’s metaverse strategy and rebranding. This forms part of the “next frontier of the social media platform, which seeks to create an embodied internet” where users interact and live in an immersive experience and are not just viewers, it said.

A “metaverse” is a virtual reality space where users in different parts of the globe can interact with each other and with virtual beings in a computer-generated environment.

In 2021 alone, Meta spent over $10 billion designing its metaverse.

While the metaverse is still in its initial phase of development, data privacy and safety issues are at the core of Meta’s strategy, noted Dr Shyllon.

“The metaverse won’t be built overnight by a single company. We’ll collaborate with policymakers, experts and industry partners

to bring this to life. We’ve announced $50 million investment in global research, and collaborated with programme partners to ensure the platform is developed responsibly.

“We have to make sure people who visit the metaverse and those who offer services in this virtual world are doing it in a safe and responsible manner. As part of this, we have outlined key principles that shape the processes we take when developing innovative products such as the metaverse,” she explained.

Since Meta announced its focus on the metaverse, several security

firms have expressed concerns over safety in the immersive world. Others have predicted data privacy issues will worsen, accelerated by increased user engagement in metaverse platforms, as more companies across the globe channel their tech budgets towards metaverse strategies.

Quoting research stats from the Analysis Group, Dr Shyllon forecast that global adoption of the metaverse could contribute 2.8% to the global gross domestic product in 10 years, with Africa contributing 1.8%. This translates into three trillion US dollars globally, with Africa accounting for some $40 billion.

According to Shyllon, the fourprinciples of responsible innovation outlined by Meta at the Facebook Connect conference in 2020, when it first announced plans to build the next computing platform, have been adopted in the company’s development of the metaverse.

These are: never surprise people, provide controls that matter, consider everyone, and put people first.

“Never surprise people means being extremely transparent in the kind of products we want to introduce, and this includes discussing which data is collected and for what purpose. This allows users to make informed decisions about wanting to join the platform.

“Providing controls is about making sure the decisions we take are based on research and not just assumptions. This ensures we are speaking to the right context and that we are tackling issues using the right approach.”

These principles, she noted, are only a starting point and will continue to evolve as Meta further engages experts, as well as the people who use its products and developers who build for its platforms.

“The principle of ‘considering everyone’ makes sure we take into account people from all walks of life and nobody is marginalised, and that nobody is discriminated against by these technologies or other users.

“We have to always ensure vulnerable groups are not marginalised and this is something that is a key principle for us.If we want to empower our users and developer community, we must equip them to make informed decisions.”

She noted Meta is continuously introducing safety and security tools to ensure it is consistently keeping people safe online, while at the same time giving them the tools to make sure they can take action when they do not feel safe, or when they’re experiencing some level of discomfort.

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