The metaverse is rapidly evolving and will soon become a consumer interface for deeply immersive and personalized interactions between businesses and consumers and for business-to-business relationships.
Data privacy in this uncharted territory is a moving target. This article outlines the top privacy issues and risks in the Metaverse, along with guidance for businesses and users on how to mitigate them.
How does the metaverse work and does it take data privacy into account?
The metaverse is a virtual environment in which people — avatar in metaverse terms – can connect, interact and transact. This convergence of the digital and physical world comes from the Greek metameaning beyond or after, and verseabbreviation for universe.
There are two main forms of metaverse:
- Virtual reality provides artificial reality typically through a VR headset that supports the user’s field of view to deliver an immersive experience. Immersive experiences include audio and positional body tracking to allow movement of body parts, such as hands, to interact with the virtual environment.
- Augmented reality is less immersive than VR. It adds virtual overlays on top of the real world through a lens of some type. Users can still interact with their real environment. AR examples include a smartphone using the Waze app in which the host can see a user’s location and guess their intentions.
Currently, there is no regulation or governing body that addresses the privacy issues that come with new technologies. This includes the Metaverse’s two core technologies – VR and AR – which use potentially intrusive sensors and data collection.
How might metaverse data privacy issues affect businesses and users?
For companies entering the metaverse universe as owners or tenants, it is important to be aware of two main dimensions of privacy: the privacy practices of the owners of the platforms that host their property and, in addition, their own policies. of confidentiality which they will adhere to.
These two policies should be aggregated and distilled into a privacy framework that customers can understand. The lack of a regulatory framework makes this difficult, but without this aggregation the company runs the risk of a privacy incident causing reputational damage that could reach beyond the metaverse and into the real world.
Consumers are even less aware of what metaverse privacy means, so companies that take a leadership role in explaining this concept in simple terms in its early stages can build a strong and loyal following.
What metaverse privacy issues should you be aware of?
Some of the major privacy issues in the metaverse that businesses and their customers should be aware of include:
- lack of confidentiality rules,
- intrusive and extensive data collection,
- the rights and ownership of user data,
- interpret the regulations in force in the metaverse world,
- user-to-user privacy and
- privacy concerns of minors.
What can you do to alleviate these worries?
Companies can take the following steps to mitigate privacy issues in the metaverse. Users should also ask about these actions when checking privacy policies in the metaverse.
Note that some of this information may already be part of the policies of the hosting metaverse platform provider. However, as a landlord or tenant, your customers are your responsibility and you should supplement the metaverse provider’s platform policy with your own practices based on the features and services provided by your property.
- sensor data,
- location data,
- physiological data and
- social data.
The policy should also specify users’ rights to access, download and purge their personal data.
Manage asset ownership.
User-generated content in the metaverse — called virtual digital assets (VDAs) — is diverse, unique, and can run the gamut from non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to avatar skins. As noted above, malicious users assuming fake identities can wreak havoc by impersonating and claiming ownership of content. The result is customer distrust of the property and dissatisfaction. Implementing technologies such as blockchain for asset ownership tracking is a way to manage content ownership and ensure confidentiality of asset ownership.
Enforce existing data privacy regulations.
Since the metaverse is available globally, the traditional definition of data locality and locality-based privacy regimes as defined by the GDPR, for example, are not fully applicable. For example, if an EU citizen decides to visit a US property hosted by an Australian platform, all three privacy regimes could apply. To mitigate risk, platform owners, landlords and tenants are recommended to rely on the aggregation of the strictest privacy regulations. This may not be feasible for reasons of speed and cost, but if this practice is not followed, the level of risk increases.
Enforce user-to-user privacy.
Unlike the real world, where spying on people and misusing that data can be obvious, logging and sharing data without participants’ knowledge is perfectly easy to do in the metaverse. Due to a lack of regulation, there are no penalties or repercussions for this. Since metaverse avatars can be underage, strict verification is essential to prevent abuse in user-to-user communication. It is again the responsibility of the platform owner, landlords and tenants to clarify that unauthorized collection and sharing of data is not allowed and the penalties incurred.
The Future of Data Privacy in the Metaverse
The future of data privacy in the metaverse will not be determined by regulators or governments, but by businesses and consumers.
Here are three likely scenarios:
- Large companies that are forward-looking and have a customer base they need to retain and grow will take a proactive stance and create a privacy bill of rights for their customers. It also allows proactive companies to dictate which metaverse platforms they choose based on adhering to these principles.
- Companies that build properties on the metaverse will play second fiddle to owners of metaverse platforms. Companies that don’t invest the time or energy to understand what the privacy policies of these platforms are will remain at risk even if they invest more time and budget in the metaverse.
- Big tech metaverse platforms like Meta will continue to dictate what data privacy is and isn’t. The companies and consumers of these platforms – who are the source of huge amounts of valuable user data – will be just spectators as these policies unfold.