Metaverse: Inception of a Paradigm Shift

    • By,
      Manogna Atkuru – Student, Kautilya

The concept of Metaverse sounds like a parody of the Matrix movie only to replace Morpheus with Mark Zuckerberg. The discussions around it range from – “Meta – What?” to “This is the Future”, and “Liberation from Metaverse”. Let’s back up a whole lot and take it from the top.

What is the fuss about?

‘Metaverse’ – was coined in the 1992 cyberpunk novel called Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. Metaverse (or an isolated version of it) later came to be known for immersive online multi-player games with VR/AR technologies created by Epic Games, Sandbox, RuneScape, etc. Fortnite even hosted virtual concerts of Ariana Grande and Travis Scott. Big Tech companies later bandwagoned on these virtual realities – Microsoft with Mesh project, Facebook acquiring Oculus. But Metaverse in its true form is an inter-operable version with all virtual worlds connected and digital transactions are done through cryptocurrency. After Satoshi Nakamoto’s Bitcoin paper, the last decade saw a frenzy of decentralized currencies usage, the rise of NFTs, and digital art. Though, a cat .gif being sold for $580,000 is hard to wrap our minds around.

Zuckerberg’s Facebook connect session last December about rebranding to Meta and their role to be an “accelerator” for Metaverse, has increased my skepticism about the technological and economic ripple it will cause in the fabric of society. He mentions their responsible innovation principles and, turns out, their last priority is – putting people first.

Silence Before Another Storm?

Zuckerburg is pitching us an incredibly realistic yet safe cocooned make-believe universe where we can buy digital land and make things happen by thinking about them (Electromyographic Input Devices). Sounds like dystopian sci-fi but after the cat gif, buying digital lands doesn’t seem so far off.

Facebook’s (now Meta) reputation and the 2020 privacy lawsuit have skyrocketed users’ trust issues and to no one’s surprise, Meta’s privacy issues run far deeper. An app that stole our data is inviting us to enter a (virtual) universe where we would be monitored. One of the major concerns about Metaverse is tracking – what the person does, their facial expressions, body movements can be tracked

with a wearable magnetic sensor system, body pose tracker, avatar personalization engine, and biometrics. For example, if I am a Metaverse avatar and I look at neon-colored signs more, the headset adapts to that content and shows more of those ads distorting market competition. This sort of micromanaged involuntary tracking of data without explicit consent is appalling. Meta monetizes human behavior by being the sole regulator of EVERYTHING.

Due to a lack of regulations, this space has become increasingly susceptible to sex predators, racist slurs, and pornography talk. Even if people are in the safety of their own homes away from strangers, it is still a grave concern of violation on many levels considering its open to anyone over 13 years old.

Policy Lookout – Path for Metaverse in India:

India is Facebook’s largest user base with over 290 million and we need to prepare ourselves for this shift as soon as we can. Regulation in cyberspace is going to be tricky and the policy landscape can come into play. Here are some ways I think we can accomplish it:

  1. Indian laws need to evolve to virtual realities as well to tackle the inevitable challenges that will arise. In the already complicated landscape of India’s socio-economic issues, there will be a need for stricter laws on sexist, racist, and casteist comments.
  2. There is a need for privacy policies that take care of user data and let them know that the immersive technology would be used by commerce business model-led virtual stores.
  3. Data exploitation has to be curbed by making user data access optional and voluntary (and not in the way we are asked to ‘accept cookies’).
  4. Law enforcement needs to be in-sync with the security breaches and platform creators.
  5. Having a decentralized system with many stakeholders keeps it transparent. The code needs to be an open source so that it can bring in trust and transparency while the development might be slow.
  6. There have to be policies in place that help users report the person(s) and a policy that will ban them from Metaverse permanently.

*The Kautilya School of Public Policy (KSPP) takes no institutional positions. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views or positions of KSPP.